Alternative Investment

Merrill Lynch ‘Life Advisor’ Climbs Mountains With Clients And Treats Them Like Family

Name: Stacee Crittenden

Firm: Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

Location: North Bethesda, MD

AUM: $388 million

Forbes Rankings: Top Women Wealth Advisors Best-in-State, Best-in-State Wealth Management Teams

Background: Born in New York City, Stacee Crittenden spent most of her childhood in Nassau, the Bahamas. A history major and political science minor at Spelman College, she then graduated from Georgetown University Law School in 1993 and worked as an assistant state attorney prosecutor in Miami. In 1997, she went back to the Bahamas after her father’s passing: “I was forced into estate planning 101 in minutes—I didn’t want anyone else to have to go through that same experience,” she describes. Shortly after coming back to the United States, she turned down a big job at the U.S. attorney’s office in 1999 and moved to Washington D.C. to become a financial advisor at Legg Mason Wood Walker. She joined Merril Lynch in 2009 and now has a diverse roster of clients that includes multigenerational families as well as small business owners, with a particular focus on government contractors.

Competitive Edge: “My clients always say the same thing,” says Crittenden. “‘Stacee is my life advisor and if anything happens in my life I like to call her first and tell her what’s happening so she can give me advice on how to proceed.’”

Investment Philosophy/Strategy: “When we speak with clients we create buckets synonymous with their goals—and long-term investing is key,” says Crittenden. “Instead of looking everyday at what the stock market is doing, I always advise clients to stick to their long term goals.” Client portfolios often include a lot of dividend payers on the equity side, in addition to mutual funds, fixed income strategies and alternative investments.

Investment Outlook: Says Crittenden. “We don’t know when the Fed will lower rates but we are going to manage client accounts so that they will continue to be able to get some sort of dividend growth and know that there will sometimes be opportunities.”

Biggest Challenge: In October 2022—after months of training and with four of her clients in tow, Crittenden fulfilled her lifelong dream of reaching the top of Africa and climbing Mt. Kilmanjaro. “It was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life but the most rewarding,” she describes, adding that planning for another climbing trip is already in the works.

Diversity: Crittenden is passionate about diversity: She travels to speak on the subject at different offices around the country as well as finds time to mentor other African-American and women advisors. “If you think about the way this business was several decades ago, your financial advisor would be a white male, but if you think of America that’s not America today,” she says. “So when teams aren’t adding women or people of color they’re making a big mistake that will cost them clients in the future.” What’s more, it makes a difference for clients to see someone who looks like them, as they can be more comfortable and don’t have to feel like they will be treated any differently, she points out.

Best Advice: Crittenden always tells new advisors to treat each client like a grandmother or grandfather. “You are like part of their family and you have to treat them like they are part of yours… if you do that not only will you have a successful career but also a group of friends who are your clients.”

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