Meet SageView’s New COO, Fresh From Goldman Sachs

Jorge Bernal joins SageView as chief operating officer after serving as co-head of advisory services for Goldman Sachs Personal Financial Management, underscoring the retirement plan advisory industry’s increasing focus on ‘wealth and retirement.’

At the end of June, SageView Advisory Group announced its appointment of Jorge Bernal as chief operating officer, tasking him with stewarding the firm’s plans for accelerating its growth as a provider of comprehensive wealth management solutions for individuals and families.

News of the appointment came about five months after SageView, under the leadership of the firm’s founder and CEO, Randy Long, announced the addition of Jim Dario as its first head of wealth management. At the time, the leadership at SageView said Dario’s hiring underscored the same goal: accelerating growth as a provider of comprehensive wealth management solutions.

Other recent talent additions include Tara Egan, also formerly of Goldman Sachs, who joined in May as managing director of human resources; Tony Notermann, formerly of Advisor Group, who joined as chief financial officer; and Jeremy Holly, of LPL Financial, who joined as chief development and integration officer.

Alongside other national registered investment adviser shops, SageView has been actively acquiring firms with a concentration in wealth management over the past several years, complementing its longstanding retirement plan consulting business. In the COO role, Bernal will aim to oversee this vision and ensure the firm acquires the right targets—and integrates them in the right way.

In January 2021, the company announced a strategic and financial partnership with Aquiline Capital Partners, a financial services and technology-focused private equity firm. Due in part to this partnership, SageView has acquired six firms since July 2021 and plans to continue its expansion through this year. As recounted below, Bernal will play a key role in the execution of that vision.

In a new interview with PLANADVISER, Bernal says his job will involve oversight of all day-to-day operations and the provision of strategic leadership for SageView’s shared services across more than 30 nationwide offices. In a separate statement about the hiring, Long said Bernal will be “instrumental in setting and executing on the firm’s strategic vision while maximizing scale and efficiency and ensuring an excellent client experience.” Bernal reports directly to Long in the new role.

PLANADVISER: Please give us your assessment of how the first month on the job at SageView has gone, and what opportunities and challenges you have already identified.

Bernal: I would say things are going incredibly well so far. I started on June 27, after serving out my required leave time from Goldman Sachs. I’ve already been able to build up that important working relationship with Randy and the team. Randy is such a great human being, and he has been so helpful in helping me get up to speed on the history of the firm and its goals—understanding where we are heading and where we have been.

Working closely with the leadership team, my focus has been on taking inventory and taking stock. You will not be surprised to hear that I think SageView has quite the opportunity set in front of it, starting from the fact that this firm is led by one of the greats in the industry. Randy is rightly viewed as one of the best industry experts. The person who he is, well, that is reflected in his company. It is truly all about serving the clients and serving our people.

Being able to leverage this firm’s culture is going to be so important as we seek to grow both the wealth management and the plan advisory sides of things. We are going to be supported in our mission by the fact that employers increasingly believe making wealth offerings available to their employees is a natural next step.

Of course, it’s a great vision, but that does not mean success is going to be easy. My job is to leverage my experience and work on the question of how we take this vision of a diversified firm and develop a strategy that the team can then execute against. That’s what I see as the core of my role.

PLANADVISER: As a professional with significant experience on the wealth management side of the business, can you speak to the connections between retirement plans and wealth management services?

Bernal: Retirement and wealth are most definitely complementary, from our point of view. First of all, the economics are complementary, and it is a natural evolution in the marketplace.

Consider this current moment of volatility. The fact that we can be there, as your adviser, and speak to your employees about their financial lives beyond the retirement plan is a real value add. We feel we are uniquely positioned to be able to talk to clients in this respect.

Forgive me if I sound corny, but we are rooted in doing what we feel is the right thing to do, and so we are not just obsessed with watching the scoreboard tick up. We are focused on how we can provide the best value for the clients we serve. They are the core of our success. During tough times like this is the moment when you earn your keep as the adviser. So, to provide services beyond the 401(k) plan, it’s just the natural extension of what we have been doing historically at SageView.

Speaking about our talent, we have advisers here at SageView who are quite competent at serving both sides—retirement plans and wealth management clients—but that is not really our end vision. In the end, we want our plan advisers to be laser-focused on their plan sponsors, and we want our wealth managers to be laser-focused on the individual wealth clients. There are skillsets that cut across, but dealing with a DC [defined contribution] plan with 50,000 people in it is very different from sitting down with an individual and discussing their potentially significant wealth.

That nuance is important, and it means we are basing our strategy in the team approach. That’s the beauty of our approach. We have great advisers lined up against each of those channels. Of course, the compensation structures have to be something everybody feels good about. At the risk of sounding corny again, I can say the level of trust and commitment here is just fantastic. There is real trust and a real team belief.

PLANADVISER: How do you see further merger and acquisition activity feeding into SageView’s mission?

Bernal: The first thing to emphasize is the importance of cultural fit. That’s the first priority in any transaction. We are being so, so selective in who we may ask to join us.

To your question, we clearly have some lofty, aspirational goals that we want to achieve. Our conviction for enacting more deals is based in the knowledge that having the right talent and the right partners is critical. We need advisers to want to be here. For us, that means we have a need to ensure we have the critical infrastructure that advisers can leverage—everything from the dedicated compliance support service to HR support and everything on the client service side.

We want to make this the place to be. We want to build.

PLANADVISER: How do you expect the partnership with Aquiline Capital will support this vision?

Bernal: Our having a strong PE partner is incredibly important for our future. In my short time I’ve already seen how they have been an incredible partner. If I wasn’t convinced that they were fully committed to this business and to our leadership team and our vision, then there was simply no way I would have pursued this opportunity.

The fact that we have an incredible partner in Aquiline, who believes in the business and the opportunities—that sets us up for success. It’s an incredible advantage that we may have over others. They have shown through their words and actions that they are going to let this team do what needs to be done. They trust Randy completely, and that was a huge factor in my making the decision to come here.