Hawaii’s Top Financial Advisors
With a total of almost $8 billion in assets under management, Hawaii's top financial advisors have the Midas Touch
The right spouse can make all the difference in your future success. The wrong one can drag you to ruins. The same can be said of financial advisors. Fortunately, we’ve narrowed the field to help you cut to the chase. The 20 men and women on these pages are proven winners. They are Hawaii’s top financial advisors, and together, they manage close to $8 billion in assets for businesses, nonprofits and high-net-worth individuals. Perhaps somewhere on the list, you’ll find your perfect match.*
*The opinions expressed by the Financial Advisors do not necessarily reflect those of their firms, The Winner’s Circle or this magazine. Individual situations may differ and we recommend you consult a professional to consider your own circumstances.
To remain completely independent and objective, The Winner’s Circle does not receive compensation from financial advisors, the participating firms or its affiliates, or the media in exchange for ranking purposes. The ranking process begins with a national survey of over 100 securities firms, insurance companies, banks, independent financial advisory practices and other organizations that employ series-7 registered financial advisors; each of these firms promote objective and independent advice with open-architecture access to financial products and services.
The founder and president of The Winner’s Circle, R.J. Shook, has also written four similarly titled books, which profile top financial advisors and promote best industry practices. Please see www.winnerscirclenet.com for more information or to nominate a financial advisor for next year’s list.These lists are based on qualitative criteria: professionals with a minimum of seven years financial services experience, discussions with senior management and compliance departments, and other weighted criteria that includes: acceptable compliance records, wealth management focus, client retention reports, customer satisfaction reports and other data that firms provide. Advisors are then quantitatively ranked based on an algorithm that weighs varying types of revenues and custodied and non-custodied assets advised by the financial professional, with weightings associated for asset types. Since revenues are reported differently among firms and among financial advisory teams, revenues are adjusted in order to provide equal comparisons. (Revenues are not published in order to maintain the confidentiality of the advisors.) Additional qualitative measures are taken for all advisors, including in-depth interviews and discussions with senior management, peers and customers. The ranking does not consider client portfolio performance.
“I guess you can’t say that finance is something I’ve always wanted to do,” says Choy. “But I’ve been really lucky in that it is something I like to do. So it took a little while, but I’ve found a career that I really enjoy.” Despite the length of time it took him to get there, Choy wasted no time in landing a gig as a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley in 1982.If financial advising truly is part art, part science, as Carl Choy claims, it’s no wonder the 24-year veteran is the state’s top financial advisor. Neither a strict right- nor left-brainer, Choy’s inclination toward both analytics and the arts has proven to be one of his greatest strengths in a business where balance is the name of the game. But that wasn’t always the case. While choosing a major at the University of Hawaii, Choy’s conflicting interests led him down a long and winding path. He began as a music major, playing the clarinet on a scholarship. But when grueling marching-band practices took their toll, Choy relinquished his scholarship and decided to go pre-med. In time, he tired of that too, along with computer science and accounting. Ultimately, some five-plus years and as many majors later, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance.
“I once listened to this team that climbed Mount Everest, and they said it took them x number of days to get to the peak, but it took them three years of practice to get there. That’s like our business. Ours is a very difficult business to build up a clientele. So in the beginning, I spent a lot of time trying different things to attract clients and I basically learned while practicing,” says Choy.
Those early years paid off. Today, Choy leads one of the firm’s most successful advisory groups, the Choy Kinney Wo Group, which has total assets of $1.3 billion and a typical account size of $1.3 million. Choy himself is within the top 1 percent of Morgan Stanley nationwide, but he credits a lot of his successes to the strength of his team, which includes vice president Lynne Kinney and financial advisor Ronald “Buzz” Wo.
“Our team is set up a little differently than perhaps most other teams, where one person is doing most of the work. With our team, everyone’s heavily involved, but in different areas,” explains Choy. Kinney’s strength is in implementing asset allocation and client strategies, while Wo handles marketing and new business development. Choy, meanwhile, keeps focused on the big picture.
“He’s always looking ahead, both in terms of our business and where the industry is going. I think that’s what makes him so successful,” says Kinney.
Choy says his philosophy is pretty simple: “[Wayne] Gretzky was a great hockey player, and he says what you want to do is skate not to where the puck is, but to where the puck is going to be. That’s what we’re always aiming for.” – JLY
It was the moment of truth. In the winter of 1987, Robert Saracco finally made it to New York City and was sitting in his final interview for a position as an assistant bond trader on Wall Street. It was the culmination of several years of blood, sweat and tears (literally). The St. Louis High School and Oregon State graduate had always been fascinated by investing and finance, so during the bull-market mid-’80s, New York seemed like the place to be.
To earn money to live and work in the Big Apple, Saracco had spent a year cleaning ships’ boilers at Pearl Harbor. It was a grueling and dirty job. He then paid his dues as a sales assistant at the local offices of Merrill Lynch. Now, his New York dream was about to be realized. He was offered the position, but then the interviewer stopped abruptly and asked Saracco to look out his window. “What do you think of our weather?” he asked.
Saracco looked out into the gusty Gotham gloom. “I don’t care for it,” he answered.
“Did you get a chance to catch the subway? What did you think of that?” asked the interviewer.
“I caught the train to get to this office,” said Saracco. “It was very crowded and everyone looked unhappy.”
“What are you doing here?” asked the interviewer. “I’d give my right arm to be in Hawaii now.”
Saracco declined the offer and headed back home. He continued at Merrill Lynch in Honolulu, working closely with one of the office’s senior financial advisors, who wanted to scale down his business. Saracco’s clientele included entry-level investors with whom he would grow and learn.
“I learned a lot, I made my mistakes. The toughest thing about this business is building a clientele,” says Saracco. “I was lucky enough to get a good start and I knew that if I did a really good job with the accounts that I had, I would get referrals.”
Saracco did a really good job and he got his referrals and then some. Today, he manages the money for high-net worth individuals. His team’s total assets of $750 million puts them in the top 4 percent of Merrill Lynch nationally. In addition, they are ranked in the top 1.5 percent in the number of millionaire clients.
But while business has been great, Saracco gets some of his greatest satisfaction from things that can’t be counted on a balance sheet. “It’s rewarding to me when you sit down with a client and explain something to them about their portfolio and they understand it, or when they take out money for their child’s education and it’s all there. That’s when you realize you’re doing the right thing.”
“Not staying in New York was the best decision I’ve made in my life,” continues Saracco, who today has a commanding view of picturesque Honolulu from his high-rise downtown office. “Business has been good. The lifestyle is great. Besides, if I went to work on Wall Street, I probably would have been out of a job the next year. The market tanked shortly after I was there. I was lucky.” Ð DKC
Shiraishi Financial Group
His pastor at Leeward Community Church might not like this analogy, but financial advisor Herbert Shiraishi likens sales work to the Lord’s work. But please, Father, allow him to explain.
After graduating from the University of Hawaii in ’86, Shiraishi volunteered as a missionary for Youth for Christ Hawaii, helping the organization reach troubled teenagers. That required developing trust with a wary group, and honesty, personal dedication and word of mouth referrals were his best tools. “That’s where I learned the concepts of loyalty Ð and marketing,” says Shiraishi, who today is a lay preacher at Leeward Community Church. “Ministry is about service; so is sales.”
Shiraishi acknowledges he makes a slightly better wage today. Back in 1986, he was getting $300 a month. In ’98, Shiraishi went to work for John Hancock and then he moved over to Aetna in ’91. For both companies, he worked as a life insurance agent, eventually achieving the “Top of the Table” recognition. “That’s the top one-tenth of 1 percent in the world of life insurance professionals,” Shiraishi says.
In 1998, Aetna was sold to Lincoln National, and in that upheaval, Shiraishi decided to go out on his own. His analogy for that move is a car salesman who can suddenly sell any kind of car, not just say Mercedes or Toyota. He was no longer tied to one company’s financial products. “In the beginning, I was like a kid in a candy store,” he says.
People liked what he was selling. His company, the Shiraishi Financial Group, has grown 10 times, going from $350,000 in annual gross dealer commission to $3.5 million since opening in 1998. He started with four people; now he employs 25 people. “I didn’t plan on growing this big, it just happened out of a need to serve the clients,” Shiraishi says.
His team’s total assets are $350 million, and Shiraishi ranks No. 3. on our Top Financial Advisors list, shoulder to shoulder with reps from industry heavyweights such as Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. However, Shiraishi says his clients are not “ultra wealthy.” He has some of those clients, some businesses, but his biggest share is seniors. “I enjoy that market, because those are the ones we really have to take care of, because their life is at stake,” he says.
Shiraishi says his fundamental financial planning philosophy is to provide stability, and he promotes such instruments as annuities, because they allow for insurance to better protect against downslides. “A lot of folks like that concept,” says Shiraishi.
Folks also like some of his old ministry tools. When he was with Youth for Christ, they used to hold Burger Bashes and then talk to the kids when they were eating Ð and relaxed. “What we do now is we have retirement seminars and afterwards we still feed them. We go talk to them while they are eating dinner and we become their friends. The key is to become their friends.” Ð SR
For the past three years, Gwen Pacarro, a 52-year-old veteran of financial planning in Hawaii and senior vice president with Morgan Stanley, has qualified for the firm’s most prestigious designation, the Chairman’s Club. Members of that club are Morgan Stanley’s top producers and Pacarro is the top-ranking woman on our list of financial advisors, making it difficult to imagine that 10 years ago she was thinking of getting out of the business.
“It might sound strange, but when you only deal with people of wealth, you sort of have a one-sided view of the world. I was raised by a mother who was a social worker, so there was this imbalance,” explains Pacarro.
The graduate of Punahou School started with what was then Dean Witter in Hawaii in 1983, after moving back from Oregon, where she had been working in sales for United Airlines. Local executive Paul Loo hired her and Pacarro went straight to work, successfully developing contacts, doing seminars and building a client base.
However, in 1995, when Pacarro found herself at a crossroads, it was her work as a member of the Hawaii Community Foundation’s Board of Governors that gave her a different appreciation for wealth. Pacarro says, “The oversight I had there allowed me to really start to see the nonprofit community within the islands and allowed me to start seeing how I could channel that through my clients and my clients’ philanthropy and started to really change my business at that point, focusing on nonprofits as well. Now I have a number of nonprofits as clients. I also have worked extensively with families in creating legacies and that’s very rewarding. So, that was a kind of turning point of understanding that there’s more than just investing your money, there’s also investing in the community as well.”
The changes continued when, in 1998, Pacarro restructured her operations and pioneered The Pacarro Group within Morgan Stanley. She says the structure allows the group to consistently rebalance portfolios and make sure the asset allocation is appropriate and customized for each client. Within that group, she has responsibility for the top 50 clients out of about 200. Her partner, Michael Laconsay, handles the balance. The Pacarro Group is also a family enterprise. Pacarro’s husband of 30 years, Gary, joined the group as a financial advisor six years ago. Her daughter, Noel, started training as a wealth-management analyst in September. Pacarro says, “Probably the best compliment we’ve ever had from clients is that working with us is kind of like working with family.”
In the future, Pacarro says she hopes more women will enter the still male-dominated field. Says Pacarro, “I think that we have a better affinity for listening sometimes and for asking the hard questions, to get a deeper understanding of the client and what the money means to them and that deeper meaning very often will allow us to do a better job in investing for them.”