J.P. Morgan’s Jordan Mayer: The Straight Shooter Behind an $8.2 Billion Practice


J.P. Morgan

Wealth Management financial advisor Jordan Mayer rarely loses clients: His New York-based team, which manages more than $8.2 billion for nearly 200 households, has retained 95% of its clients over the past five years. A big reason why is that Mayer and his team of 11 communicate realistic expectations for investment returns. “We tell people that we will hold up extremely well in down markets,” says the 37-year industry veteran and Barron’s 38th-ranked advisor nationwide, “but don’t expect us to outperform in strong, growth-related markets.”

Speaking with Barron’s Advisor, Jordan discusses why hiring his daughter three years ago was a game changer for the practice. He reveals why he’s telling his clients—typical account size $30 million—to prepare now for tax changes that could occur in 2026. And he explains why he prefers to hire “old souls.”

Where did you grow up, and how did you get into the business? I grew up in Commack, Long Island. I wanted to do something that was dynamic, that allowed me to work with people, where you were treated like a professional and really provided something that was needed. I had gone to law school but decided I didn’t want to pursue that avenue. I thought being a financial advisor was a business where you could use your intelligence—I was good with numbers and finance—and help people and be treated like a professional. So that’s what drew me in.

How did you learn that financial advisor was a career option? I recall reading books on careers of the ‘80s. There were three different groups in financial services: There were the insurance companies, and I didn’t want to do that. There were financial-planning firms; I went to a couple of interviews and I wasn’t very impressed. And then there was the brokerage business, which was trying to transition into financial consultancy.

I remember going to a presentation at the Intercontinental Hotel, which is right around the corner from where I am now, hosted by Shearson Lehman Brothers. They described a two-year training program, where they expected you to learn about the business, learn about markets, and get licensed. They would support you, and then you could transition into becoming a financial consultant. I thought they were sharp. I thought it was a great program. And that was the path I chose.

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How did you get your first few clients? A lot of cold-calling. Back in the day, it was formulaic: The idea was that if you made 300 dials a day, you would have 60 contacts. Sixty contacts would hopefully lead to six prospects, and six prospects would ultimately lead to one client. And if you did that every single day, at the end of a month you would have 20 clients. So it was really a numbers game. No one told us what to talk about or what to promote.

I had gotten into this business because I really liked people and I wanted to help families, and I quickly learned that I didn’t like being a salesperson. I didn’t want to talk about a stock. I didn’t want to talk about a specific bond. I wanted to talk to people about their life. So I decided to try to build a business working with retirees and executives on a planning basis, taking a slower approach. And that’s what I did. And then I spoke to somebody whose company was disbanding and distributing its 401(k) plan. I wound up getting a whole bunch of those people as clients. It was luck, but you make your own luck in this world. And that started the retirement planning and the working with executives.

What do your clients look like now? Our business isn’t only wealthy individuals and families. We also have not-for-profits, including foundations, colleges and universities. We also do wealth planning for companies. Not necessarily 401(k)s or pension plans, but if a company has $50 million or $100 million in reserves, they may want to have a wealth management approach for that.

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What individuals, families, not-for-profits, colleges, etc. have in common is high-quality conservative investing. We use a very similar approach for all of those clients, using the fixed-income and equity markets, having a balance to meet their goals, using customized solutions for each individual or organization, and never getting out of our lane of what we do.

What would getting outside your lane look like? Getting outside of our lane would be if somebody is asking us to do something that we’re not comfortable with. For example, I’m not a fan of junk bonds. I don’t see the reason to give up credit quality for a couple of extra percentage points in an asset class that, to me, has more risk associated with equities. I would prefer to talk to people about quality fixed-income investing and what their allocation should be to equities as compared with taking a one-off solution for a client who is strong-willed and wants that asset class. And I stick to what I believe.

Do you stick with stocks and bonds, or do you use alternative investments? We have used alternatives, carefully and selectively, usually private equity, and private debt on the real estate side. We have stayed away from hedge funds over the last handful of years. We’ve tried to find very good managers that we can have faith and trust in. Stocks, bonds, and ETFs are still the core of what we do.

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How have higher bond yields affected your asset allocation decisions? We’ve always had a bond allocation, and we’ve increased it a bit. We were very active just a couple of weeks ago, when the 10-year Treasury hit north of 5%, and we decided to start locking up longer term exposure and having more duration in portfolios, whether it was on a tax-free side or in very high-grade corporates.

What are two or three decisions that have been pivotal for your career? The first one was taking a step back and instead of trying to do just sales, embracing the planning and portfolio management approach in the context of larger relationships. In the ‘80s, that wasn’t necessarily what the focus in the business was; it was more just on investments.

The second decision was building a team. I realized that I couldn’t do this all myself, and that there was power in a team structure. The third thing was taking the opportunity to have my daughter, Jennifer Mayer, join our team. She came out of the University of Michigan’s business school and spent four years in institutional sales and trading. When she joined us in 2020, she brought a whole other element to the business. A lot of what we do borders on being semi-institutional. Not that we’re institutional sales folks, but we bring that high-quality level of research and portfolio structure. And a lot of that was due to Jen’s background. So that was a big chance to be a father-daughter team. And it’s worked out phenomenally.

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What are your private clients concerned about these days? Most people today are concerned about the economics of high inflation, about higher valuations in the market. They’re concerned about the geopolitical situation and stability in the world. On the planning side, a lot of people are concerned about potential tax law changes, especially with the sunsetting of the estate-tax exemption coming up in a couple of years. Higher tax rates, especially here in the New York area, are another topic of conversation.

What are you telling your clients when they bring up the sunsetting of the current tax regime? That we expect that the lifetime exemption is going to go down considerably, and that we need to have a collaborative conversation with their estate-planning counsel, because we do like to quarterback those situations. And they probably need to think about using that lifetime exemption to the extent that they can set up trusts for family members. And we tell them to really think about their wealth transfer strategy and what they want their legacy to be.

In other words, don’t put off planning for 2026, even though it seems far away right now.

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Yes. One of the things we hear from attorneys all the time is to be early to the game. They remind us that the last time this type of change was expected, in 2012, they didn’t get to everybody just because of the amount of volume that was in their offices.

What is your sentiment about the economy? We think there are two potential outcomes ahead. One is that we have a soft landing, and that’s obviously the preferred outcome. However, this market is betting that inflation will only decrease. If there are any surprises to the upside with inflation, you could certainly have a lot of damage. So we watch the verbiage that’s coming out of the Fed very closely. And we will watch valuations and be cautious when things get pricey.

How did you achieve your 95% client retention rate? The key to retention is service. Our client service segment is led by somebody who has been with me for 32 years. We are highly client-centric and we’re constantly getting positive comments, which brings a smile to my face. I think the fact that we don’t get out of our lane on the investment side is important because clients know what to expect. We tell people that we will hold up extremely well in down markets but don’t expect us to outperform in strong, growth-related markets. We really want to be down the center of the fairway and build high quality and less risk into portfolios.

You now run an 11-person team. What have you learned during your career about successfully managing people? Empower, trust, respect. Give them growth opportunities. Encourage them to have education. Make sure that they are compensated. We are expecting them to work with very sophisticated and well-to-do people. They need to live great lives.

What’s your biggest business challenge right now? The biggest business challenge in the past year or so has been finding quality people when we have had open positions. We had two open slots for over eight months. And the team got a little stressed because we needed more hands on deck. We could not find the right people, but I wasn’t going to hire just to hire. So we waited and we waited. And ironically, we wound up finding two people in the same week; one was administrative, and one was an investment associate. But that was a really frustrating experience.

Do your recruits have to come from elite schools and have pedigreed backgrounds? Or do you cast a wider net than that? Oh, far wider. I honestly couldn’t care less about whether somebody comes from an elite school. In some ways, I almost don’t want that. This may sound a little crazy, but I look for old souls. I want really quality people who are grounded, who don’t want to be the CEO two weeks after they come on board. I’m looking for people who want to learn, who come out of very good families and they’re more staid and they just have characteristics about them that are a little bit more old world.

How do you relax and recharge outside of work? I work in Midtown Manhattan, and I can walk to work in literally five minutes. That leaves me time for taking care of myself. I swim, I go to the gym. We spend a lot of time with our family because both of my daughters live within 30 blocks. My wife is involved in the theater, so we’re always at a show. I listen to books while I paint. My personality is such that I could work 24/7, but I know that’s not healthy physically, emotionally, or for anybody around me.

Thanks, Jordan. 

Write to advisor.editors@barrons.com


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