FA 100

Meet the financial advisor ranked No. 1 by CNBC

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Key Points
  • Dana Investment Advisors in Waukesha, Wisconsin, came in at No. 1 on CNBC's list of the top 100 financial advisors in the U.S. for 2021.
  • CEO Mark Mirsberger credits much of the firm's success to its ability to stay focused on what doesn't change from moment to moment, or decade to decade.
  • "People have a hard time fathoming that things can get better," he said. "You have to show them that the world's not ending."
Mark Mirsberger
Source: Dana Investment Advisors

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, stocks were in the red, and the S&P 500 was having its worst day in months.

As Mark Mirsberger, CEO of Dana Investment Advisors, watched the market drop, he was calm.

"It's part of the journey," Mirsberger, 59, said. "It shouldn't go up every day."

Dana Investment Advisors in Waukesha, Wisconsin, came in at No. 1 on CNBC's list of the top 100 financial advisors in the U.S. for 2021. The firm has more than $7 billion of assets under management, and has been in business since 1980.

Mirsberger credits much of Dana's success to its ability to stay focused on what doesn't change from moment to moment, or decade to decade. During his more than 30 years at the firm, he's lived through the dot-com bubble, the 2008 financial crisis and now the coronavirus pandemic, which he says has been his toughest challenge to date.

"The last one has been more than financial," he said. "People have a hard time fathoming that things can get better.

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"You have to show them that the world's not ending," he added. "Where there's hope, there's growth."

Coming out of the pandemic, he said they believe inflation may stick around for some time. As a result, they're focusing more on adjustable rate and floating rate bonds.

The big tech stocks, including Apple and Facebook have seen so much growth that their upward trajectory may ease a little, said Mirsberger, who added that he is looking for more growth in high-quality value stocks.

"Unprecedented uncertainty regarding markets, taxes, cryptocurrencies, NFTs [non-fungible token], inflation, Covid vaccines and the environment is making personal financial planning more important than ever," he said. "While the internet has made information readily available, investors are seeking help deciding what's most important and what they should believe."

When Mirsberger interviewed at the firm in the fall of 1991, he happened to mention that he was a state tennis champion and golf player. At the time, the firm's two largest clients were the PGA Golf Tour and the ATP Tennis tour. He was hired.

"You're competing against the markets," he said, of the connection between sports and financial planning. "And you want to win for your clients."

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Dana Investment Advisors tops CNBC's financial advisors list

Although the firm made some moves at the start of the public health crisis to soften their losses, including selling several airline and restaurant companies, Mirsberger said they were thinking about life and the economy long after the public health crisis.

That focus on the long-term, he said, has helped them identify opportunities.

For more than 20 years, Dana Investment Advisors has offered clients environmental, social and corporate governance — or ESG — investing options. Because they began doing so early, he said, "we're kind of petri dish test: Can ESG add value?"

They've found that it can.

"Our ESG strategies have performed as well, if not better than, our non-ESG strategies." As a result, they now incorporate the approach across all of their portfolios in some way.

There's no magic bullet.
Mark Mirsberger
CEO of Dana Investment Advisors

The firm has also been heavily researching cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology.

"Us being able to talk intelligently about it and not just dismiss it has helped us win over younger clients that want an educated exposure to those areas," he said.

But the biggest challenges to financial planning haven't changed, Mirsberger said.

Everyone wants to know: Will I have enough to retire? And will my savings last?

He said these fears are well-founded, and he cautions his clients against seemingly easy solutions. "There's no magic bullet," he said.

Recently, one client told him someone offered to get him a 4% return in "a very safe investment."

"I said, 'No they can't.'"

After the client sent him the ticker, Mirsberger was able to explain its risks.

"If the market goes down, they were going to lose money," he said. "People don't like reading the fine print. The value we bring is reading the prospectus."

Mirsberger is skeptical of many of the exotic products sold by Wall Street today, as well as the rise of certain cryptocurrencies.

Instead, he shows prospective and current clients how the firm's portfolios have steadily grown over time, thanks to smart allocations and compound interest.

"Over the next 100 years, I tell people I'm pretty sure where the stock market is going," he said. "It's going higher."