As David Bokman sees it, sometimes the best way to serve the firm’s clients is not to answer their questions—at least not right away. His approach is to advise them to see the bigger picture. “Part of working with affluent individuals is not jumping to ‘What small-cap manager do I want?’ or ‘What’s the best way to structure this loan?’ Those are important questions, but you have to be able to say, ‘Let’s pay attention to these big strategic issues first.’”
For Bokman, who earned degrees in economics and law from Yale and spent decades as a specialist in estate planning and wealth advisory before coming to Morgan Stanley, painting that big picture involves coordinating the many resources and deep expertise of the firm to provide thoughtful, comprehensive solutions. “That’s when clients are most grateful and we all get the most satisfaction from our work,” he says. Read more about Bokman in the following interview.
What is your role at Morgan Stanley?
I came here about four years ago. My assignment was to take the collection of specialized resources that the firm had always provided—estate planning, philanthropy, lifestyle advisory, trust advisory and the like—and bring them together as a cohesive offering for our ultra-high-net-worth clients. Our group is called Family Office Resources. The single biggest concern clients have is: “How do I simplify my financial life?” We’re able to help them go from feeling like they have to manage multiple relationships to feeling like: “This person at Morgan Stanley, this advisor or team, has the depth of resources both in and outside the firm, to address all of our needs.” That’s really powerful.
Where do the best ideas come from?
The client knows much more about what he or she needs than we ever will. What we try to do is bring time and attention and subtlety to the conversation. It’s not just “What do you want us to do for you?" It’s “What are you really trying to accomplish?” As time passes, and the size and complexity of the family and family dynamics increase, there’s a tendency for our clients to focus less on technical questions and more on personal questions: “What am I going to do with this wealth? What impact do I want to have on my children, on my community or society or the environment?” So the ability and the comfort level to deal with those issues are really critical.
What's special about Morgan Stanley?
I think there’s a real focus on collaboration, on inclusion of different viewpoints. A good part of any meeting is spent thinking about who else is impacted by this, who else might want to weigh in on this decision. Beyond technical expertise and understanding our advisory model, people here have the ability to work collaboratively and think comprehensively. To go beyond, “I have a hammer and everything looks like a nail” to “OK, what’s the broad story here? Am I even the right person to have the conversation right now? Should this go to somebody else at, or even outside, the firm?” Overlaying all of that is the client service ethic, the ability to think about clients and their needs. There's a genuine focus on the client. That's easy to say, but I really do think that's a critical part of the culture here.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
Watching the members of my team grow—both as professionals and as individuals. Our collaborative approach doesn’t just end up creating great results for our clients, it’s also the best way to develop talent and consistent results. I’ve been in the business a long time and I’ve worked with so many great people, but Morgan Stanley really feels like a place where one can have a positive impact.
What do your clients appreciate most?
Significant wealth creates opportunities, but it also creates unique stresses. Our clients have a lot of demands on their time, and many have concerns about the impact wealth will have on the younger generations of their families. I think our clients appreciate that we can help them address tough questions in a gentle way, and that we can deliver the very specialized expertise they need to develop the solutions that are just right for their families.
What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?
I would say the best part of my day—and this happens very often—is the email from an advisor saying, “I just want to acknowledge this member of your team. We brought him or her into a meeting. It was a valuable meeting, and the client was really grateful for a deeper relationship with Morgan Stanley.” That’s the best thing to hear.