Bernard Reina, an advisor at Citi Personal Wealth Management in Los Angeles, says he got his start in the financial advisory industry in high school in Torrance, Calif, investing his dad's life savings.

Reina, the son of an Argentine immigrant who worked as a machinist in the Los Angeles aerospace industry, explains, “My dad worked in a tool and die company that had an ESOP. He worked there for almost 30 years and as a result he collected about $175,000 as his share of the company when he left. That was in the late 1980s, and he told me to invest it for him.” He laughs, “I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was just a kid. I bought companies like AOL, Microsoft and stuff, and I guess I got lucky. It was a good market and I built his assets up to close to half a million over a couple of years.”

Dumb luck or natural savvy, Reina decided that he liked investing other people’s money. Attending college nearby at Cal State Long Beach, he earned a business degree specializing in finance. After a failed attempt to join the CIA (he got through two rounds of interviews but then was told they were looking for people who spoke Arabic), he set out to become an advisor.

Initially, he joined Dean Witter’s Torrance office, where he was trained, earned the necessary licenses and began cold-calling for clients. “I grew up in a working-class family in a working-class town,” he recalls, “and I didn’t have any rich acquaintances, so I did something unorthodox. I went to the local Whole Foods market, where I noticed pretty well-off people shopped, and since I knew the manager there, he let me set up a table in front of the store, where I could talk to people about investing. It worked for a while and I got a few clients that way.”

But Reina says he quickly soured on working in a wirehouse. “I didn’t like the environment,” he says. “People were kind of selfish, talking about ‘What’s in it for me,’  so I left and decided on going to the bank channel.”

He landed a job at Glendale Federal/California Federal, a California-based savings bank. While there, he met a financial advisor at Citibank who invited him to move over. “I’ve been working there ever since,” says Reina, adding that the advisor who invited him to move became his mentor and is now a senior executive at Citi Wealth Management. “I told him at the start that I liked him, and I didn’t care what the commission was, I wanted to work with him. Why? He was a broker like me, he knew our business, he’s very likeable, and he always has your back,” Reina says. That was 1999. Today, Reina heads a busy three-advisor team at Citi that handles some $300 million in client assets.

It wasn’t an easy shift going from working as an individual advisor to working in a team, Reina recalls. Initially, he was working at an office in Westchester, a community in Los Angeles County, where he got his AUM up to about $15 million to $18 million, with most of his clients coming as referrals from the branch’s personal bankers and the bank manager.

Then a new manager was hired by Citi to oversee the advising platform. “She was really big on teams,” says Reina, “and while a lot of us were reluctant to team up, it turned out to be the best thing that happened to us.”

He says nearly two-thirds of the advisors in the region eventually left for other jobs, but he and 210 others stayed on. He was made a co-head of a team of eight people. “It was a fire drill,” he says. “Not exactly planned out.”  The co-head idea didn’t work in the end and Reina wound up head of the team. Meanwhile, six people in the original group left, with one, Richard Goldberg, staying on with Reina. Cordelia Lo, a native of Hong Kong who had started out in the group as an entry-level employee, was promoted two years ago to full advisor status on the team.

“So we sort of developed into a successful team through attrition,” says Reina. We each have our niches— mine is constructing portfolios, and I’m good on equities and alternatives. Richard is great on annuities and estate planning, and Cordelia does a lot of work with fixed income and annuities, and handles our Asian clients because she speaks Mandarin and Cantonese.” Reina, who grew up through grade school in Argentina, speaking Spanish, also handles some Spanish-speaking clients.)

“We also cover different geographic areas,” he explains. I have the South Bay people—a lot of high net worth clients, mostly doctors, seniors and business owners as well as some offshore clients.” Goldberg covers Palos Verdes, while Lo has Reina’s old home turf of Torrance.

“We have a written agreement about how we run the team,” Reina says, explaining that this was suggested by Citi management, which helped the team draw it up, while letting them work out the details among themselves.

“It’s pretty easy,” Reina explains. “All our work with clients is traceable. We do a review every quarter, and every six months we rebalance. Basically if during a period I bring in 65% of the revenues, I get a 65% share. It’s like a law firm. If six months later I bring in 60%, then that time I get 60%. It’s very, very smooth. If your production is down you only have yourself to blame.”

That said, he also says there is some flexibility and understanding. When one member of the team got ill and was out for a month recently, “we left the shares the same, because you don’t want to be hard on people. I want this to be like a family.”

While things are going smoothly for now, Reina knows that there will come a time when the team will have to grow. “As we get bigger, I suppose I’ll have to bring someone else in. Maybe then I’ll get someone to work with our B and C clients and they can work their way up to full members of the team,” he says.

When it comes to advice to young advisors getting started, Reina the once grudging team joiner says, “I would tell anyone that joining or forming a teaming is a great idea. Clients like it because it looks very professional. You can show them your areas of expertise, and people like to know if their advisor gets run over by a truck, there will still be someone there to take care of them. And the leverage of having a team is just huge.”

But he laughs, recalling how his eight-member team had initially been cobbled together, saying, “Pick the right people to team up with if you possibly can.”

That, at least, is what he did in choosing his life partner. “I met my wife back when I was an advisor at Glendale Federal,” he says. “She came in looking for someone to manage her $3,000 IRA.  I started inviting her out to dinner. I think she was wondering if this was how advisors treated all their clients.”

Now, 14 years later, they are a family with two pre-teen daughters. There is no indication, however, that Reina is planning on handing either of them his life savings to invest. 

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