Michael Lierschage 37

Head of behavioral finance, Merrill Lynch Wealth Management

I am a Visionary

40 Under 40
40 Under 40

I am a Leader

40 Under 40
Leaders

I am a Trailblazer

Trail Blazers

I am an Entrepreneur

40 Under 40
Entrepreneurs

I am a Visionary

40 Under 40
Visionaries

I am an Idealist

40 Under 40
Idealists

Meet the Leaders

Whether in their own firms or in their communities, these young people are leading the charge toward innovation in financial planning, bringing new opportunities to advisers and clients alike. Here, they share the best leadership advice they’ve received in their careers.

Meet the Trailblazers

This group doesn’t subscribe to groupthink. They are spearheading new ways of practicing and delivering financial advice — in some cases reaching populations previously considered unprofitable to serve. We ask them about the most unique and unusual ideas they’ve had.

Meet the Entrepreneurs

In addition to helping clients reach their financial goals, some in the advice industry face the challenge of running a business or a team. Others have started companies to support this pursuit. These young people are flourishing amid the balancing act — and some got an early start.

Meet the Visionaries

It’s not about what is, but what will be — and what can be — the future of the financial planning industry for this group of forward-looking advisers, educators and executives. Their insights pull the rest of the profession into the next stratum.

Meet the Idealists

Life experiences shape our ideals, especially for these young professionals who see challenges in the advice industry and the world — and set out to meet them. They also have words of wisdom for the next generation.

About Michael

Michael Liersch is leading the charge to translate behavioral finance research into tools that help investors make better money decisions.

As head of behavioral finance for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, he's developed a 27-question personality assessment for clients to help advisers start new conversations based on clients' deep-seeded concerns about money.

For example, the assessment may help an adviser know whether to encourage clients to give away their wealth during their lifetime or help them create a legacy, he said.

"I work with advisers every day, if not every hour," said Mr. Liersch, who works about 60 hours a week. "I want to help them make investing personally meaningful for clients."

He encourages advisers to initiate conversations with clients about meeting personal goals, not asset growth.

Mr. Liersch, formerly with Barclays Wealth, joined Merrill Lynch in 2011. He has a doctorate in cognitive psychology from the University of California, San Diego, and once considered a life in academia. But he believed behavioral finance research had gotten to a point where it was time to make it work to improve actual financial decision making.

"The research had seemed to go untranslated in financial services," he said.

Mr. Liersch, who is married and has one daughter, said at heart he still appreciates the value that understanding behavior and biases can bring to the lives of investors.

"I love data and I love research," he said. "There's nothing more powerful than asking the right questions, collecting the data and helping humans get to a better place."

Liz Skinner

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Fast Facts

  • Interned at Taco Bell in college; part of job was tasting food "to see if it resonated with my demographic."
  • Wanted to be a professor growing up
  • Has a cat named Persephone (Queen of the Underworld)