Chad Ragland, an advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors based in Palm Beach, has a history of not taking the easy road.
As a young man back in the 1960s, during the bitterly fought and bitterly disputed Vietnam War, he applied for and got a choice Peace Corps posting to teach English in Tahiti. But he didn’t accept it. Instead, he walked into a recruiting office and signed up for a hitch in the Army, and serving in Vietnam for a one-year tour, he earned “a couple of Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.”
Explaining his decision to go to Vietnam to fight and not to Tahiti to teach, he says simply, “Well, I found out that the training site for Tahiti was the Florida Keys, and I had already gone to college in the Keys, and didn’t want to go back there again, so I enlisted.”
His military career and his service decorations are not something he uses in any ostentatious way to market himself, but he says he does have his awards hanging on his wall in a shadow box his sister made for him almost half a century ago.
He says he suspects that his military record may help him convince potential clients of his integrity. “It’s either that or my gray hair,” he jokes. “I never dye my hair.” He recalls once having one of his partners, Scott Powers, who is in his 40s, bringing a client into his office. “The client looked at my hair and said, ‘I was a little worried when I saw Scott. I’m glad to see you’re here.’”
He laughs, thinking back on that comment. “I’m the guy who brings a historical view—and gray hair—to our team,” he says. “Scott and his twin brother Gregg are the annuities experts, and Sean Sill is our bond guy.”
“We did have one man who was selling a business and had the potential of being a large client. As soon as we walked into his house, I knew we’d have him as a client. He came to the door wearing a Ranger (Army special forces) shirt. I recognized it right away. Inside, one room of his house was full of mementos and I could see that we had both served in the same part of Vietnam. That clinched it.”
Outside of his advisory business, Ragland volunteers to help veterans and serving troops. With a son, a West Point graduate who served four tours in Afghanistan, he knows personally the challenges that can be faced stateside by families of active duty service personnel, and is active with a charity organization, Operation Home Front, that helps those at home who have a family member serving abroad.
He says he’s also helped to steer veterans or family members of veterans in the right direction to apply for and obtain Veterans benefits—no easy task these days as recent Veterans Administration scandals have demonstrated.
Ragland got his start in the financial services business 30 years ago, working as a broker with Paine Webber. “I was without a job looking for work, and I thought the investment industry was a good place to be,” he recalls. “I got hired by Paine Webber after a couple of firms had turned me down. That led to an offer at Florida National Bank, which then went through a whole series of mergers, ending up with me finding myself at Wells Fargo.” Now he’s a managing director, running a four-man office for Wells Fargo Advisors.
Ragland says his team has 600 clients and has over half a billion dollars in assets under management. “Our clients are across the board,” he says, adding, “It didn’t use to be that way. For a while we had established a $500,000 minimum asset requirement for clients, but we dropped that. We still look for the high-end clients, but we’ve found that clients who don’t have that much money can become clients with money, or can recommend people with money to us.”
Many of their less wealthy clients are actually Wells Fargo employees who retire and come to his group, he says. “That’s very satisfying when someone does that,” he says.
Ragland recalls one client who came to him with $100,000 in assets. “He wanted a higher rate of return that he was getting with a CD. Now he has $18 million. We did so much for him with that CD money, including refinancing a couple of properties through the bank, that he brought in all his assets to us,” he says.
Often, he says, he ends up dealing with family issues. “We had a woman in her mid-70s come in who was still supporting her 50-year-old child. We said to her, “Look, if you were dead they’d have to make it on their own. You need to let them do it.”
Another time, he recalls, a woman came in with 50 envelopes all addressed to different charities. “She was overdrawing her account every month making out checks to all those charities that had been requesting money. I pulled in a family member to get them involved, got her to stop making all those donations, and got her back on track.”
He says, “We see the good and the bad down here. Florida is the scam capital of the world, you know. Happily, our clients bring their offers to us usually before they get involved—like pitches offering a 40% return. We try to stay so involved with our clients— seeing them usually at least eight to 12 times a year—that we spot things like withdrawals that seem unusual.”
Early in his career, a woman come in and said she wanted more a higher interest rate. He looked at everything for her from government bonds to junk bonds, but the best he could find at the time was 9%. She wasn’t happy, and kept saying that there was a bank offering 18%. “I said to her, ‘That’s just not right!’ But she replied, ‘Oh no, I’ve been to their offices and they’re for real.’”
Luckily, he says, he was able to dissuade her from that investment. “The guy who was making the offer to her is now doing 30 years in jail!”
Ragland says his investment strategy is very client-centered. “We find out what a client’s goals are, and then we try to keep them focused on achieving that. Mostly, we keep them from jumping into investment fads. We explain that if you change your plans down the road, you usually get clobbered. This talk usually works, he says. “It can take a lot of hand-holding sometimes, but we only lost one client during the recession. We constantly find ourselves saying, ‘You said this was your time period, and you should stick with it.’”
The key to success has been client trust, and he says, “We have a lot of trust. Our clients know that we will not put them into high-commission products.”
Part of building that trust, he says, is getting to know both husband and wife when clients are married. “There is a huge difference between men and women when it comes to financial matters,” he says, “Including in my family.” (His wife Kathleen could laughed as he spoke.)
Ragland continued, “I find women are more generational in their thinking. They’re thinking about the kids and the grandkids. Men are thinking shorter term: Can I have that cabin in the mountains?”
When it comes to building the business, Ragland says new growth comes primarily from client recommendations at this point. “We have long relied on, and still do client appreciation events periodically, like group picnics for clients, or sponsorship of art groups, and often people will bring along friends to those events who later become our clients,” he explains. “We realize where our pay comes from so we rely very heavily on client appreciation.”
It’s a strategy that seems to have worked well. Now the head of a team of advisors, this Vietnam veteran says he has never regretted his decision not to head to Tahiti with the Peace Corps, and no plans to visit that fabled island. “Life took another direction, and it’s been an interesting, exciting ride.” he says.
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