Raj Sharma, MA ’83 calls himself an “accidental advisor.”
The Emerson Trustee and private wealth advisor with Merrill Lynch began his career, armed with a graduate degree in mass communication, working in film media before he “stumbled onto wealth management,” but after more than 35 years of working in the field, Sharma felt he had learned a thing or two about how to help clients – and how to help new advisors help their clients.
The Purposeful Wealth Advisor: How to Build a Rewarding Career While Helping Clients Achieve their Dreams was published in December 2022 and quickly made its way to Amazon’s bestseller list. As of mid-March, it was still ranked #16 on the site among all books about the financial services industry.
“I was looking to be an entrepreneur and I stumbled onto wealth management … but this has proven to be my calling,” Sharma said of his eventual career.
Sharma said his purpose as a wealth advisor is to “enhance and enrich” his clients’ lives and provide them peace of mind, and that mission runs throughout the book.
He gives as an example a client he had years ago who learned she had terminal cancer. Sharma helped the woman, who had three children and elderly parents she was caring for, get her estate in order and make sure her insurance was done properly. Shortly before she died, she thanked Sharma for ensuring that she needn’t worry about her kids once she was gone.
“[Being a wealth advisor] is not just about money management or making an X amount rate of return. It’s helping [clients] on their financial journey,” he said.
One of the main reasons he wrote the book, Sharma said, was to dispel the myths people have about wealth management, specifically that you need to come from wealth personally, or have connections with wealthy people in order to get into the field.
“One of the great things about America is people value competence and people are looking for somebody they can trust, so if you can bring those two qualities to bear, you can succeed in this profession,” Sharma said.
When Sharma got into wealth management, “I found the field to be a little bit of a club,” but slowly it’s diversifying, both racially and socioeconomically, which will have ripple effects, within financial services and beyond, he said.
“The more people who have the opportunity to understand this field, they will in turn, help their respective communities,” Sharma said.
Sharma said of all the things he loves about his chosen profession, his biggest thrill, apart from helping clients achieve their goals, comes from convincing clients to consider philanthropy.
“I open their eyes to the world of philanthropy and how this can be a part of their legacy,” said Sharma, who, in addition to serving as an Emerson trustee, serves on the boards of numerous nonprofits and foundations, including the Boston Harbor Island Alliance, The Boston Foundation, the American India Foundation and Youth LEAD, a program within the Elma Lewis Center. He also is a charter member of TiE, a global organization supporting entrepreneurship, and serves on the advisory board of RIAN Immigrant Center.
So how much of his success in wealth management does he credit to Emerson? Quite a bit, actually.
At Emerson, he learned how to craft a message and tell a compelling story.
“At the end of the day, a good wealth advisor is a storyteller. You’re trying to convince your client of a certain advantage,” he said. “My communication background and the skills I gathered at Emerson helps me accomplish that.”