Joe Nelson, a 25-year advisor veteran, started over about 10 years ago. That’s because his career had evolved in two separate stints, and he had just come back for the second act.

His first 15 years came at three separate banks, and then he quit to try his hand at entrepreneurship. He ran a video gaming company with a friend, but ultimately found himself in a position where he needed to find something else. So he returned to what he knew best--wealth management-- this time at Wells Fargo. And he brought a new entrepreneurial spirit that he cultivated over the previous two years in addition to his 15 years of experience. But he had no AUM.

In the ensuing 10 years, however, he has turned himself into a top advisor at Wells and in the broader industry. He's been designated with the bank's "premier advisor" status for the past three years and he's been a multiple winner on our signature ranking, the Top Bank Advisors.

More important, and the reason behind the accolades, is a career path that has resulted in a $575 million book of business and over $2.5 million in production last year.  Looking back on his career path, he says his best advice to young advisors is to “work the first five years like the dickens.” Plan on 60-hour workweeks, he says. Many young FAs get disenchanted in their first three years and simply quit. And he cautions that they need to stay focused on serving current clients and finding new ones -- instead of getting sidetracked with meetings that make others happy but don’t directly help the advisor's cause. “A lot of young FAs get pulled into lunches with wholesalers and lose focus,” he says as just one example.

For selecting investments and deciding asset allocation, he says he's not looking to reinvent the wheel. In fact, he doesn’t view himself as a money manager at all. In this regard, working at a major bank like Wells Fargo has its benefits. He often uses institutional strategies with his clients, and for the high-net-worth set (those with assets of $3 million or more) he can avail himself of the team of in-house experts in areas such as portfolio management, tax planning and private banking.

Challenge for You and Clients Alike
The biggest challenges he sees facing advisors now come from robos.

A definite hot topic of the day, robos represent a growing competitive threat that worries many advisors. Indeed, robos currently have about $19 billion in AUM, and estimates from Cerulli suggest that it could grow to nearly $490 billion in the next four years.

It's not just a threat to advisors, however, but to clients as well. The simplicity and low cost certainly appeal to many investors, but he says that the increased volatility in recent months may unveil the weakness in the algorithm model. Those client "don't have anyone holding them to their objectives," he says. Real advisors, on the other hand, can bring real value to the table. Like many Wells Fargo advisors, he's a fan of the bank's propriety tool, Envision, for such tasks. Among other things, Envision helps clients with decision-making and keeps them on track. He says he uses it every day with clients to create a benchmark unique to their situations and goals. So a big part of his job in the early meetings with new clients is to simply get them to articulate their goals, he says.

While robos are the challenge of the day, advisors also need to have long-term plans in place for their own growth. One mistake young advisors make is to succumb to the tremendous pressure "to get big too fast" by focusing too much on the short term at the expense of the long term. He says advisors need to have 10-year plans, as well as one-month plans, and every major timeframe in between.

One particular memory that offers motivation for him comes from junior high when an English teacher told him: “Nelson, the cream always rises – try to be the cream.” His own twist on that: aim higher than everyone else, he says. That's how you catapult yourself to the top of an industry.

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