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Iván Watanabe of Opus Advisory Group: “Invest in yourself”

It is a bit of a cliché at this point, but identify your “why”. Getting clarity on why you help your clients and what motivates you to take on the responsibility and honor of advising clients, is very important. It is the driving force that allows you to push ahead during those difficult days, which […]

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It is a bit of a cliché at this point, but identify your “why”. Getting clarity on why you help your clients and what motivates you to take on the responsibility and honor of advising clients, is very important. It is the driving force that allows you to push ahead during those difficult days, which you will have. Money cannot be the motivating factor. If it is, you will never be satisfied. There will never be “enough money” if that is the only motivating factor.


As part of our series about what one should look for when hiring a financial planner or adviser, I had the pleasure of interviewing Iván Watanabe. He joined Opus in 2013, after working in Boston for five years as a financial associate. During his time at Opus, Iván quickly established himself as a leader and an asset to the team, and he became a managing partner in 2018.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I am a first generation American, born and raised in Bradford, MA. My mother immigrated from Venezuela and my father from Japan, both came to the US as young adults. Like many immigrant families, money was not something that we discussed at home. The lack of financial transparency at home and, to be frank, poor decision-making, had a tremendous impact on me growing up. I unfortunately had to “learn the hard way” just how important financial literacy is. These hard lessons led me to pursue a career that would allow me to fundamentally understand and promote effective financial strategy and education as well as a career that would provide my family with stability and the means to support their dreams.

I got the opportunity to start that career when I was interning at BNY Mellon. My mentor invited me to attend an Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA) networking event. At the time, I was a senior at the College of Holy Cross with the goal of pursuing a career in finance. Right before the event, I went to Staples and printed business cards with my basic contact info on them so I would have something to pass around. As luck would have it, one of the professionals I met was a financial advisor who passed my card on to the hiring manager at her firm; the rest is history.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting in the industry? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

Early in my career, I had a great prospective client and was incredibly nervous about the upcoming meeting. It is unclear if my nerves got the best of me, but I somehow spent the entire meeting calling him by the wrong name. At the end of the meeting, he politely corrected my mistake. Ever since then, I pay a tremendous amount of detail to names and pronunciation and have made it a priority not to let my nerves sabotage me.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We recently launched our WealthStyle podcast. The goal of the podcast, much like our firm, is to not only provide financial insights and strategies, but to provide great family and personal content. In our most recent episode, we discussed how to raise children of means; to raise children that will not have to worry about financial stability and ensure they remain humble and grounded. This is a conversation I have often with clients and friends who are entering a level of wealth they never had as children; the balance of providing your children with anything they could need while also instilling values and appreciation of a dollar is a challenge.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

I think the “tipping point” happened when I realized what my role is in the lives of my clients. My role is to be a valuable strategic resource and to cultivate a relationship of care. My role is not to always know the right answer in every circumstance at the drop of a hat; this is something I initially thought my clients expected of me. All my clients know that rather than giving them a rushed answer I am unsure of, I seek out the information required to provide the best answer supported by strategic economic reason and fundamentals. Besides being the one center-point of contact for my clients, I focus my attention on building relationships with them. I genuinely care about their well-being and want to know about the things that make them tick, what keeps them up at night, what they are concerned about, where their passions lie, and what is really going on underneath the surface. The financials become secondary to the desires and goals of our clients. Once I gained clarity on my role in their lives, my practice flourished.

What three pieces of advice would you give to your colleagues in the finance field to thrive and avoid burnout? Can you give a story or example?

  1. It is a bit of a cliché at this point, but identify your “why”. Getting clarity on why you help your clients and what motivates you to take on the responsibility and honor of advising clients, is very important. It is the driving force that allows you to push ahead during those difficult days, which you will have. Money cannot be the motivating factor. If it is, you will never be satisfied. There will never be “enough money” if that is the only motivating factor.
  2. Find a study group. I have a group of 8 other trusted advisors who I meet with quarterly and we discuss trends, financial strategy, successes, failures, and personal life goals. They have been a tremendous source of energy and positivity for me, especially when there are challenges both personal and professional.
  3. Invest in yourself. I learned a long time ago that mindset in this business is everything and we must constantly stay sharp, confident, and compassionate. I invest in a business coach who helps keep my mental space, family, and physical wellbeing a priority. In addition, I surround myself with podcasts, apps, stories, and people who represent positivity and gratitude. Our days are filled with things that we cannot control, so I do my best to focus on the things I can control.

Ok. Thank you for all of that. Let’s now move to the core focus of our interview. As an “finance insider”, you know much more about the finance industry than most consumers. If your loved one wanted to hire a financial professional (not you :-)), which 5 things would you advise them to find out about before committing? Can you give an example or story for each?

1. Do you think you can open up to this person? Do your best to identify whether you are comfortable enough to divulge your thoughts and preferences to this advisor without feeling judged. As financial professionals, we often end up being financial therapists. We have intimate knowledge of what is going on in the household, so if you do not feel like you can open up to them, it should be a dealbreaker. The advice provided by the financial professional will only be as strong as the information shared. If you aren’t sharing everything, there will be gaps in the planning.

2. Does this financial professional have experience working with others who are similar to you? You want to work with people who understand the nuances of your particular career, are familiar with the opportunities and threats in that field and can provide guidance based on past experience. Additionally, can that financial professional understand you culturally? As the product of immigrants, from two very different cultural backgrounds, I can bring a certain perspective and connection that others may not. It is important to understand that dynamic and familiarity. Not all advisors will appreciate those nuances.

3. How are they paid? You should understand how the financial professional is compensated. Do they sell proprietary products and investments, or do they work with a wide breath of investment options? Some people are more comfortable paying an upfront fee for services because they feel there will be less bias when offered certain recommendations. Find out how the financial professional is compensated and then gauge the pros and cons, what are you most comfortable with?

4. Can you understand them? Communication is critical in our business. It is important for advisors to be able to translate complex financial strategies, products, and concepts into a digestible manner for clients to understand. Your advisor should take the time to educate you on different strategies and what they actually mean for you and your family. If you are getting the sense that the financial professional does not take the time or simply cannot explain it in a way that you will understand, it will not be a successful relationship.

5. What if something happens to the financial professional? One of the main reasons I joined Opus back in 2013 is that I wanted to have partners and professionals around me that I trusted; if my health were to fail, I would have individuals with integrity that could take care of my clients. There are many sole practitioners out there that have no succession plan in place when they retire or if they were to get sick. What would happen to your plan if that advisor was no longer around?

I think most people think that financial professionals are for very wealthy people. This is likely not actually true. Can you explain who would most benefit from hiring a financial professional and why? Can you give an example?

I honestly believe that everyone is entitled to and should get great financial advice. It is just a matter of finding an advisor that suits your needs and gives you the attention that your situation requires. Though wealthy clients often have more assets and require a more complex financial strategy, individuals and families with lesser assets still need help and guidance. For those with simpler financial situations, you may want to start by having a conversation with the people at your bank, utilizing the financial professional on your 401(k) plan at work, or leveraging the junior financial professional at a successful practice. No matter how simple or complex your financial picture is, there is always a need for guidance on how to implement a strategy for both short-term and long-term planning. From setting up a plan on how to manage a monthly budget, to retirement planning, to learning how to transfer wealth, there is a financial professional who can help during all of these scenarios.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am grateful for my mom. She has always been a great cheerleader with unwavering support. For those who know my mom, they would describe her as generous, kind, and always up for a good time. What I see in my mom is an incredibly hardworking person that has instilled a fervent work ethic in me. She taught me the value of developing relationships, caring for others, and altruism. I am not sure I have one particular story to share, rather a lifetime of examples of grit and love.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love for mainstream society and the business community to reframe empathy and kindness as a strength and asset. Today, I often hear people refer to kindness and empathy as being synonymous with weakness. Especially in business, the consensus is that being understanding of someone else’s perspective weakens yours and being kind makes you vulnerable to exploitation. My belief is that these old adages could not be further from the truth. Having the ability to appreciate and see someone else’s perspective creates better strategy, products, and concepts and improves society as a whole. Kindness shows strength, particularly during difficult times. Being kind has never served me wrong. When I am most generous, compassionate, and kind, the universe always has a way of bringing me back more than I gave.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Linkedin profile: linkedin.com/in/iván-watanabe-he-él-2185a49

Opus WealthStyle podcast: https://wealthstylepodcast.blubrry.net/

Website: www.opus-pc.com

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