Name: Donna Di Ianni
Firm: Merrill Lynch Wealth Management
Location: Aspen, Colorado
AUM: $1.8 billion
Forbes Rankings: America’s Top Women Wealth Advisors, America’s Top Women Wealth Advisors Best-in-State, Best-in-State Wealth Advisors
Background: After majoring in foreign languages in college, Donna Di Ianni went back to school to get her master of business administration degree at Pennsylvania State University. Just before graduating she interviewed at Merrill Lynch and has now been with the firm for more than 38 years.
Her career ended up falling into two phases, beginning in northern New Jersey where she spent 17 years before being asked by the firm to open an office in Aspen, Colorado where she owned a condo at the time and has now lived full time for 22 years.
Competitive Edge: Di Ianni credits her deep knowledge of the industry for her success. Her son Max, who works on her team, says she is “cycle-tested,” having seen clients through many different and varied market cycles, fostering a long-term perspective on capital markets.
She also credits her team for her success, saying that financial advice is “not a business that one person can do on their own.”
Best Advice: Early in her career, Di Ianni was given the helpful advice that it is important to be a “student of the history of the market,” adding that she has learned that it’s crucial to “understand how the market works over multiple cycles, never be complacent, and focus on clients as if they were your own family.”
Biggest Challenge: It has been an ongoing challenge for Di Ianni to set realistic expectations for clients, spending lots of time telling clients that the market can be a very emotional place.
“It’s a roller coaster of emotions, from optimism to euphoria to fear to panic to capitulation back to optimism. We talk about this because we want our clients to have rational expectations,” Di Ianni adds. “The idea is to not let emotions drive investment decisions.”
Mentors: When Di Ianni first entered the industry, she called senior advisors in her area and asked if she could spend a day with them. A few of them became mentors, showing her the ropes as she learned how to organize a business and work with clients. Di Ianni specifically credits Patricia Bell, a fellow Forbes/SHOOK Top Advisor who works for Merrill Lynch in Short Hills, New Jersey, as a significant influence.
Lessons Learned: Di Ianni has learned to never be complacent, knowing there are always new challenges coming down the road. In an attempt to be forward looking, she has built a multi-generational practice, including her son. While clients may be concerned about markets, taxation and other matters, their core concerns is how they will pass on wealth to the next generation and who their children will have to help guide them through that transition.
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