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Top Advisor Spotlight: Greg Onken, Managing Director, JPMorgan Wealth Management

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Greg Onken is a managing director at JPMorgan Wealth Management. His San Francisco, California-based team manages $2.3 billion in custodied assets. He was named a Top Wealth Advisor and Best-In-State Wealth Advisor this year.

Onken, 60, started his career in the mail room at Bear Stearns, eventually accepting a job offer to work mostly in institutional credit at the now defunct investment bank. Nearly four decades later, he is finishing up his 11th year at JPMorgan.

Advising through unprecedented times:

While Onken has seen a lot in his nearly four decades in financial services, the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting market volatility defied any comparison to previous experiences.

“We wrote something a couple of quarters ago about the use of the word unprecedented and how many times it showed up in different reports and commentaries. The appearance of the word unprecedented was unprecedented,” Onken says. “We were trying to be clever but at the same time illustrating that no one had actually seen anything like this before. There was a risk of death, which made it more serious.”

Onken found that the teams preparations before the crisis meant they didn’t have to make many large changes. The most work they did was ensuring consistent communication with clients.

Despite various restrictions to in-person meeting, Onken and his team “continue to communicate using email, phone calls, video conferences such as zoom and all sorts of means pretty regularly,” he says. “Our message hasn’t changed.”

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The team shifted portfolios on the asset side in February 2020 when they began to fear the severity of the looming pandemic.

“We were fortuitous and a little bit lucky, we reduced our exposure to anything that had economic cyclicality as a variable for its success and increased our exposure to what we call secular growth, opportunities that grow regardless of the economic picture. We navigated through this storm, very similarly to the way that we navigated through all the previous storms, it was just a different type.”

Technological growth in finance:

The biggest change that Onken has observed in the industry is the pervasive growth of technology.

“Thirty years ago, everything was done by hand and voice, now so much is done via text, email and PDF,” he says. “Because of that, we’ve had to make a conscious effort to have verbal and physical communications”

The increased integration of technology has also meant that “things move a lot faster and volumes are much greater,” he adds.

When Onken first entered the industry, having access to information was advantageous, he says, now being able to distill the readily available and outsize amount of data and information is integral.

Projections for the future:

While he is optimistic, Onken cautions that “we may be done with the virus, but the virus isn’t done with us.”

He anticipates that there will be an ongoing need for booster shots against variants and that will be between a $7 billion and $25 billion market starting next year.

“We’ve now shifted some of our exposure away from secular growth to more reopening trades. We think that with the reopening that economic growth is coming back in spades, we think it will be big,” he says. “We want to have equity exposure to those industries and market segments globally. Nothing will be monolithic, there will be fits and starts. We take advantage of that normal volatility to accumulate position.”

“We’ve got low interest rates and a lot of money coming out of the government,” Onken adds. “There’s a lot of growth potential but that has to be paid for. It’ll be paid for partially out of growth, partially out of debt and have to be paid for with increased taxes. All of those factors come with ramifications.”