Kestra-Affiliated Michelle Merkel: What FAs Need From Tax Advisors To Succeed in Serving Clients

President of Merkel Financial Discusses the Attributes of Tax Advisors That FAs Should Seek When Forming Strategic Relationships to Best Support Clients

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor, WSR

Across the wealth management space, discussions about tax advisors invariably track back towards how financial advisors can drive more client referrals from these professionals.  

Yes, referrals continue to be the primary engine of growth for most financial advisor businesses.  But the scramble for new business from financial services professionals operating in adjacent spaces to wealth management can obscure one key fact:  In many ways, tax advisors need financial advisors as much as financial advisors need tax advisors.  

And not just for new client referrals.  Experienced and savvy tax advisors generally recognize that they represent just one facet of each client’s broader financial life.  They understand that the perspectives of financial planners and wealth managers are necessary to deliver holistic client service experiences.

That’s where consistency and commitment to supporting clients tends to win the day for most financial advisors, versus getting caught up in the race for referrals from other professionals.  

An excellent example of this can be found with Michelle Merkel, President of Columbus, Ohio-based Merkel Financial, an independent wealth management firm with $300 million in client assets.  A longstanding fan of tax-smart financial planning and wealth management, Merkel leads a team of seven professionals with a focus on supporting entrepreneurs and decision-makers within family-owned and other closely-held businesses.

The Kestra Financial-affiliated firm’s leader has successfully grown her business over the course of her nearly 30-year career with an emphasis on the fundamentals of client service, which includes working productively with tax professionals on shared client goals.

WSR recently caught up with Michelle Merkel to discuss how financial advisors can work on a tax-smart basis by selecting the right tax professionals to partner with according to each client situation, as well as each tax professional’s experience and work style.

WSR:  In your experience, what are the top three best practices tax advisors should follow to collaborate productively with financial advisors on shared client relationships?

Over the years, financial planning has evolved and changed where we have seen the typical stockbroker, bank associate, and insurance agent shift their positioning to be considered or classified like a CFP® financial advisor.  

Given this industry backdrop, where more professionals who aren’t really financial advisors are trying to position themselves as such, there are three best practices for CPAs and other tax advisors to follow when collaborating with a true financial advisor.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

First, both the tax advisor and the financial advisor need to identify their specific strengths, experience and even their role with shared clients from the outset.  

Second, I seek relationships with other professionals that are collaborative and analytical.  Tax advisors who can sit down with financial advisors to talk through different scenarios in detail and explore different planning options to determine the right solution for the client will generally make more headway in building relationships with financial advisors.

Third, tax advisors should play to their strengths within the field, versus trying to position themselves as the destination for every tax-related situation.  

Not all accountants are planning accountants.  Many tax advisors just evaluate the tax liabilities of what occurred rather than plan on future changes, approaches and solutions.  

And of course, there are frequently instances where I work with attorneys that have tax and estate planning specialties because those capabilities are more attuned to the client matter at hand.

WSR:  What are the attributes among tax advisors should financial advisors be looking for when it comes to potentially referring their clients to these professionals?

It is important to engage in relationships where you respect and trust the skills of the professional you are working with on the client’s behalf.  

Trust is key!

In general, I’m much more focused on creating the collaborative relationships that drive successful outcomes for clients versus being overly concerned about cross-referrals.  

In my experience, if the tax advisor is focused on doing the right thing for the client and staying educated with changes and rules, then the referrals from financial advisors will naturally come!

WSR:  Where do you see the biggest business growth opportunities for financial advisors in the next three years when it comes to tax smart financial planning and wealth management?

We find it important to be connected with the client’s needs and goals as it pertains to their now, their retirement, their business, their employees and their legacy.  

With proposed changes to the tax laws, it’s imperative to know how people want to protect their family and/or their business interests for the future, it is important to be an expert in strategies and options.  

Michelle Merkel, President, Merkel Financial

Utilizing and understanding tax efficient investment options and products will be more important.  Irrevocable trusts, charitable trusts, charitable donor advised accounts, Non-Qualified Excess Plans, GRATS, Roth IRAs, Opportunity Zone Investments and even Life Insurance will provide tax benefits for different objectives. 

The key is to know that clients have different goals and different objectives.  There is a need to be informed, educated, and flexible for the client.  Having the ability to share with your client’s tax planning options while working for the client first are crucial.

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst, can be reached at

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