FREE 6.2 Feature – John Parise

John Parise’s practice, Copper Beech Financial Group in Marlton, N.J., is a leader in the financial planning marketplace and one of the top producers at American Portfolios. His unique service model, the family once, was formed to assist affluent clients in managing their wealth through multiple generations.

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    FREE 6.2 Feature – John Parise

    FREE 6.2 Feature – John Parise

    The passion behind the practice. It’s the spring of 2012. John Parise’s practice, Copper Beech Financial Group in Marlton, N.J., is a leader in the financial planning marketplace and one of the top producers at American Portfolios. His unique service model, the family once, was formed to assist affluent clients in managing their wealth through multiple generations. Servicing clients with an average net worth of approximately $25 million, Copper Beech is a gatekeeper, providing a constant and trusted advisor who understands a family’s wealth goals and objectives. But for Parise, the drive behind the enormous success of his practice does not come from creating and preserving wealth alone…

    It’s critical that what makes me tick is the pain of what I went though. That’s why I got into this business, because I swore I would never let a family go through what I did.

    “What motivates me?” John Parise repeats from across the conference room table. “It’s not an investment account, it’s not a life insurance contract; it’s not anything other than showing families that they are fortunate.” His gaze is penetrating.

    “When I look at families, I see the joy they have because their moms and dads are still here. I never had that. I strive to put values in place and have families reach the pinnacles of their own success, whether it is financial, capital or intellectual.”

    Take his client in Boston, for example. The father of a traditional, Italian family passed his business on to his boys, leaving his only daughter, Jill, on the sidelines, uninspired and unenthusiastic about the firm and her brothers’ business dealings. The first meeting with Parise and his Copper Beech team brought all the siblings around a table. Jill was seated unengaged, arms crossed, leaning back in her chair.

    “About two and a half hours in, I watched her get more relaxed,” Parise recalls. “She started to take notes and pay attention to the things I was saying. When we took a break, she walked up to me and said, ’John, I think that was the best few hours I could have spent. I finally understand my dad’s vision; I didn’t before, but I do now and I want to be part of the business.’”

    Today, Jill runs the company and has tripled its revenues. “She used the intellectual capital of that family to transform the firm,” he says. “If it weren’t for that meeting, she’d be working with someone else.”

    At the heart of his family meetings lies emotion; the deep, personal connection between the things a person does today and the impact it will have for generations, and often times the emotional pain from the past that prevents someone from moving forward into the future. “Most clients have a lot of excess baggage; it’s how you handle that baggage that’s key to your success, especially when dealing with families,” he offers.

    Parise’s personal experience is testimony to this. When he was 9 years old, his father passed away leaving his mother to raise four children. “She was not the typical Italian woman in the ’50s and ’60s. My mother was ahead of her time,” he remembers. “Educated, very smart – an OR nurse, someone to reckon with. She raised us on her own. All four of us were born within 35 months of each other; my identical twin brother and I are two minutes apart, my sister is 10 months younger and my brother is 10 months older. It was nuts.” Raising four children as a single parent is a struggle for anyone, and although she was barely able to support her family, Parise remembers having nothing but admiration for his mother. “We didn’t want to disrespect her; didn’t want to lose that confidence she had in us to become something.”

    Parise’s mother eventually remarried, and on the eve of his 15th birthday, gave birth to her fifth child, Anthony. The family was again complete, but then in 1982, both she and her second husband came down with cancer and died within eight months of one another; Anthony was only 13 years old, and Parise was 28.

    “So watch the bouncing ball,” he says, leaning forward into the beginning of a story. “I was working for AT&T and had no idea what wills were supposed to do; no idea what trustees were, what guardianship was supposed to be and I get thrown into this thing. I was coexecutor with my sister of my mother’s will.

    Before she dies, my mother has a private conversation with my sister, and it goes like this: ‘Don’t sell the house for less than a quarter of a million dollars. It’s worth it.’ My sister says, ‘Mom, you got it.’ Remember, communication is key to what we do at Copper Beech and what happened [as a result of the conversation between my mother and my sister] is why.”

    When the family probated the estate, it was clear the house needed to be sold. There was no life insurance, no money to care for Anthony, no liquidity. But when the appraisal of the house came in at $190,000, Parise’s sister refused to sell. To prevent him from selling the home in order to pay for the expenses, she sued the estate. Three years later, the attorneys took all the money and Parise and his sister didn’t speak for 27 years.

    “Now, what’s the model here?” he asks. “The model is one conversation with one person causes havoc with the whole family. That’s how crazy it gets. Twenty-seven years later, my sister doesn’t know my kids; that’s what drives me feverishly to help families recognize that the power they have to make things right or wrong is huge. They can take either path; the path I want to put them on is making it right.”

    That path is what the family office is all about. It’s an interesting process, one that is unique to the financial services industry; so much so, that Parise felt his former broker/dealer could not support his practice, which is why he moved his business over to American Portfolios.

    “I tried to develop the family office structure with my former broker/dealer for about 10 years, but it was too sophisticated for them. They worked with me, but I eventually grew out of the organization. A recruiter who knew [APFS CEO] Lon Dolber and [APFS President of Sales and Marketing] Joby Gruber thought that American Portfolios would work perfectly. So I met them, and Lon was blown away. I don’t think there’s a broker/dealer out there that could give me anything more than what I get from American Portfolios.”

    So what exactly is this process that make’s John Parise and Copper Beech so successful? Parise says it starts with an interview—not to decide if the client will work with Copper Beech, but to decide if Copper Beech will work with the client.

    “I know it sounds kind of strange, but you have to qualify for our platform; it’s not about money, it’s about your heart for your family. If you don’t care about your kids, if you don’t have values or any interest in helping your family discover growth, you can’t be a client of ours.”

    After the interview, an audit is implemented to fully discover the needs of the prospective client. It’s a process developed by Michael Parise, John’s son, who joined the business three years ago as an in-house attorney. The audit allows the Copper Beech team to fully assess the family’s situation and, from there, compile considerations and lay out a plan to move forward.

    “It’s a unique process,” he admits, “one that is very different.” But it’s only the beginning of the family office strategy. The next step is dealing with the emotional baggage that comes with every family through a series of thought-provoking questions, and this is where Parise shines.

    “Most clients have a lot of excess baggage in their world; they’ve had bad advisors, divorces or problems with their kids—issues we all have. I always begin my conversations with clients this way: ‘I want you to start with a beginner’s mind.’ They look at me funny, but when you were five years old, what excess baggage did you have? You didn’t. The world was open; there was nothing but fun and excitement because you had nothing dragging you down. My initial job is to get my families to not worry about the past, to start fresh, to talk about today and how together, we are going to move forward.”

    Transitioning one’s outlook on life is a daunting task indeed and it takes a special person to walk someone through a complete change of mind. But Parise’s passion for families guides his instinct and enables him to expose the true desires of every individual he works with. He asks questions that most would not expect from a financial advisor, questions like: What keeps you up at night or what do you want to be remembered for? It’s a psychological approach to planning.

    “You can talk to any of my staff here and they’ll tell you the same thing,” he says. “There’s nobody out there doing what we’re doing and clients are reacting to us like you wouldn’t believe. They want to know why none of their other advisors have ever asked them these questions before; why their attorneys or CPA’s are not approaching them this way. It’s hard to answer their questions, but the truth is they’re not trained that way. They are not generational thinkers. They are not going to sit at the coffee table with you and spend the two or three hours talking about your family. That’s not their role. It’s ours. We are the gatekeepers of the family and we collaborate between all of the advisors and implement strategies as a team.”

    The Copper Beech advisor team is comprised of five core individuals. There’s Parise, who is the self-proclaimed “front stage guy;” the marketer, the visionary, handler of relationships. Then there’s Michael Parise, the attorney and “back stage guy,” offering support in technical design, white paper authoring and document review. Justin Hewins and Salvatore Cocivera offer expertise in different areas: Cocivera, according to Parise, is great with executives and is excellent from a planning standpoint, and is also the point of contact for the kids of the Copper Beech clientele; Hewins, who was recruited from Ameriprise, is a CFP and deals specifically with clients in the $1 million to $2 million range. Together with Colleen Huff, Parise’s assistant who provides full-time support to the office, and Marjorie Davey, a client relationship manager for Cocivera, the team strategically tackles the needs of Copper Beech’s families.

    “None of us make a decision by ourselves anymore. We think as a team, come together with all of our ideas and strategize those ideas. When we all agree that something makes sense, we go to the client together and say, this is the next step. Then the client sits back in his chair and says, ‘This is great; I have a whole advisor team working for me.’”

    Working with high net-worth clients allows Parise to flex his product-solution muscles. While each family plan is different, some focused on estate planning designs, others around an insurance structure, assessing a family’s needs and finding the right fit for them is one of his many talents.

    “When I was with Cigna they taught deferred compensation strategies, estate planning strategies, business succession strategies, retirement strategies; there was a whole education process. Cigna invested a ton of money into their operation. There were about 600 of us around the country and they fine-tuned us, trained us pretty much the same way. In the ’80s we were recognized as the leading planning organization in the country. I’m 60 this year; that’s 27 years of experience in planning.”

    He gives an example of one of his strategies: “Did you know you could generation-skip with an annuity? Most people don’t. That’s Lincoln’s Choice Plus with their I4Life Rider. It allows you to skip income through generations. So take grandparents; they love one thing and one thing only, and that’s their grandkids. When you go to a grandparent and say I can guarantee you income streams to your grandchildren for the rest of their lives, they go, ‘ok, great!’”

    He pauses. “Think about the logic in that … I can sell million-dollar annuities on that concept and it has nothing to do with the annuity transaction itself; it has to do with designing an income flow to protect a family for the future. It’s not about selling the client an annuity; it’s the planning that impacts families. The conversation is different with us.”

    The line isn’t fluff. The energy and intensity within his practice are palpable. The enormous success of his business and subsequent plans to teach other advisors how to follow his model is a testament to its effectiveness. Above all, his passion for helping families is apparent. “It’s critical that what makes me tick is the pain of what I went though. That’s why I got into this business, because I swore I would never let a family go through what I did.”

    As for Parise and his own family, the future shows signs of mending the past. “The promise I made to my mother was that I would hold a family reunion every year; have all my brothers and my sister come together, to keep the family together …” he pauses. “I just heard from my sister after 27 years.” She’ll be attending her first family reunion this summer.

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