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Some of the key people at Wealth Enhancement Group are, left to right, Bruce Helmer, co-founder, financial adviser and host of “Your Money” on WCCO-AM; Peg Webb, senior vice president, financial adviser and co-host of the radio program; Jeff Dekko, chief executive officer; Joe Brummel, director of retirement plan consulting, and Jim Cahn, chief investment officer. The Plymouth-based independent financial planning and advisory firm has expanded across the Upper Midwest since its 1997 founding.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

Wealth Enhancement Group thrives with focus

  • Article by: TODD NELSON
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • October 15, 2012 - 10:08 AM

The wealthiest of families often establish a private company, known as a ''family office,'' to oversee their financial planning and investments.

Aspiring to deliver to the broader market a level of service that it says approaches that of a family office is Wealth Enhancement Group, an independent financial planning and advisory firm based in Plymouth.

"We want to bring the capability that's available to the ultra wealthy and deliver it to our clients," said CEO Jeff Dekko. "We are always trying to look at what's not available or accessible to the classic retail investor" and how the company can deliver to that group.

That includes, Dekko said, offering team-based, customized services to clients. And doing so with a "values-driven" planning perspective that involves helping clients align financial decisions with what's personally important to them.

That focus on clients and their values, Dekko said, has helped Wealth Enhancement Group retain customers despite the financial turmoil of the Great Recession. The company uses a team of specialists to understand clients' needs and work with them. But then it has a separate group that manages their investments, an approach that's closer to that of a family office or trust than the classic broker model, Dekko said.

That arrangement allows the team working with the client greater time to provide advice on issues such as estate planning, financing health care into retirement or maximizing the after-tax benefits of investment strategies. The firm operates under a hybrid model, generating management fees as a registered investment adviser and commissions as a broker-dealer, in addition to management fees on its retirement plan consulting services, Dekko said.

Services include financial planning, investment management, tax strategies, insurance, estate planning, and retirement plan consulting for employers, a new offering introduced two years ago.

Today, Wealth Enhancement Group manages nearly $3 billion in assets for 8,500 clients, up from more than $2 billion in assets and 7,000 customers five years ago -- just before the economic meltdown. Its customer retention rate is greater than 97 percent. Clients typically have $300,000 to $5 million to invest, although some have a net worth of $10 million or more.

The firm, which has 140 employees, has 12 offices in Minnesota and Iowa. Wealth Enhancement Group expanded into Chicago and Milwaukee a year ago, serving clients remotely from its headquarters without opening offices in those cities.

That's in part to sustain a culture that's been carefully tended since the group's four founders launched the firm in 1997. The founders, Dekko said, each brought different experience, having worked in financial services, financial services administration, trusts and education.

That final specialty belongs to Wealth Enhancement Group co-founder Bruce Helmer, financial adviser, author and co-host of "Your Money," the financial planning program heard weekly by more than 50,000 listeners on WCCO-AM and eight other radio stations.

Helmer has a new book in the works, titled "Real Wealth," that offers a values-driven look at post-recession financial and personal priorities. The radio show, books, webinars and seminars serve as inbound marketing tools designed to provide education in the hopes that prospective customers will seek out more information from Wealth Enhancement Group.

The group further sharpened its focus on values after the recession, Dekko said. Employees went through exercises to explore and strengthen their values while the firm developed a set of cards to help clients identify their values.

Each card bears a word, such as family, safety, change and adventure. Clients' choices, particularly among couples, can shed light on emotions that might influence their financial decisions.

The company is owned by a combination of internal shareholders and Norwest Equity Partners, a Minneapolis-based equity investment firm that made a significant investment five years ago. Todd Solow, a general partner at Norwest Equity Partners, said the company has managed well through a difficult period.

The expert says: Robert McCalla, director of the undergraduate major program in personal finance at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Wealth Enhancement Group is in a field that's crowded with competitors for middle to upper-middle income investors.

"One thing that is different than your average brokerage firm is the range of backgrounds the people have, the registrations and licenses they have," said McCalla, a certified financial planner with industry experience. Offering a range of services is good for the firm and its clients, McCalla said.

"It simplifies things," he said. "It's a different experience than going one place for investments and another for your insurance."

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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