Effusive praise for a fallen captain

Judson Taft Bergman was a true pioneer of the financial advisory industry

Oct 19, 2019 @ 6:00 am

By Ryan W. Neal

Judson Taft Bergman, whose futuristic idea to create software that would help independent financial advisers compete with wirehouse brokers grew into the market-leading fintech firm Envestnet, died in a car accident in San Francisco on Oct. 3. He was with his wife Mary Miller-Bergman, who also died in the crash.


Mr. Bergman, 62, is remembered for his warmth, intelligence and inspirational leadership. His contribution to the financial advice industry is difficult to overstate.

Twenty years after Mr. Bergman convinced a few colleagues from Nuveen Investments to create Envestnet, the firm now counts 96,000 financial advisers on its turnkey asset management platform, serves 3,500 institutional clients and touches more than $3 trillion in assets. Envestnet controls nearly 40% of the TAMP marketplace, according to Cerulli Associates.

Beyond the numbers, the Envestnet platform has made it easier for thousands of advisers to launch their own firms, fueling a trend toward independence that has fundamentally transformed the industry.

[More: What could Envestnet buy next?]

"He could see things that others just could not," said Lori Hardwick, current chairman of Riskalyze and one of the original partners of Envestnet. "Not only see it but provide a path for getting there. It's hard to think about all of the things the industry isn't going to have now because none of us can think as far down the road as Jud Bergman."

Brandon Thomas, Envestnet's chief investment officer, recalls first seeing the business model for Envestnet in the late 1990s. It was during a PowerPoint presentation Mr. Bergman delivered to leadership at Nuveen Investments, where Mr. Bergman served as the managing director for mutual funds.

"The idea was to leverage the internet, leverage the growth in the separately managed account business and also the growth of the independent RIA channel to create this technology and investment management solution to help provide RIAs with the same capabilities that wirehouses had," Mr. Thomas said.

early headwinds

Nuveen passed on the idea, fearing it would threaten the company's revenue stream from the wirehouses. Mr. Bergman recruited a small group of his Nuveen colleagues to set out on their own in 1999. Nearly immediately they faced headwinds.

[More:Envestnet shows advisers how its purchases create integrated adviser ecosystem]

The bursting dot-com bubble was the first major challenge. Then, just days after Mr. Bergman acquired Portfolio Management Consultants, terrorists attacked New York on Sept. 11, 2001. Later, as the company prepared to go public in 2008, the recession hit and delayed the initial public offering until 2010. But Mr. Bergman's belief in Envestnet never wavered.

"Jud often talked about how we started a business at the worst possible time. We weathered a lot of difficulties," said James Lumberg, an Envestnet co-founder and executive vice president.

A known history buff, Mr. Bergman would tell his staff about Hernán Cortés, the Spanish explorer who famously burned his fleet after arriving in Vera Cruz. "The lesson was there was going to be no turning back," Mr. Lumberg said.

opening bell

When company executives finally rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on July 28, 2010, to celebrate Envestnet's IPO, Mr. Bergman beamed. He could finally complete his vision of a comprehensive wealth management platform.

"He knew we now had the ability to go out and get the rest of it, go invest in the things he saw as the future," said Bill Crager, Envestnet co-founder and interim chief executive. Since then, Envestnet has entered the RIA space by acquiring Tamarac, has become a leader in data aggregation with Yodlee, and purchased financial planning giant MoneyGuide.

[More: Envestnet Tamarac expanding into wirehouses with Merrill partnership]

From ubiquitous chess references during Envestnet conference presentations to paintings of pioneers such as Amelia Earhart, Bob Dylan and Barack Obama, hanging in Envestnet's conference rooms, Mr. Bergman's passion for history, sports, and music colored his professional life.

Mr. Bergman said he learned the value of combining technology with human expertise from the Russian chess master Garry Kasparov, who praised Mr. Bergman upon learning of his death.

"In a world and industry often dominated by doomsayers, it was a rare pleasure to encounter Jud Bergman's positive energy and optimistic outlook," he said.

"We would always call him the Dos Equis, the most interesting man in the world," Ms. Hardwick said, referring to the popular beer campaign. "Everyone in the office called him that because he knew so much about every topic you brought up."

Born in Crookston, Minn., to Clinton and Juanita Bergman, and raised outside of Minneapolis, Mr. Bergman excelled in sports, played the trombone and worked for the family silo-manufacturing business, Bergman Silo.

wheaton college

Mr. Bergman studied English and played basketball at Wheaton College, where he met his first wife and mother of their four children, the late author Susan Bergman. He later earned an MBA from Columbia University.

Mr. Bergman is also remembered for having an incredible memory that he used to recite poetry, passages of scripture and Latin plant names. He had several Abraham Lincoln speeches committed to memory and was known to break out in song.

[More: Envestnet Tamarac expanding into wirehouses with Merrill partnership]

He passed these passions along to his four children: Elliot, a musician and visual artist; Elise, a fashion designer and musician; Natalie, a singer and songwriter; and Bennet, a poet. Elliot and Natalie also perform as the popular band Wild Belle.

Though his own path steered him toward business, he always supported his children's interest in the arts.

"I am a warrior, so that my son may be a farmer, so that his son may be a poet," Mr. Bergman had said.

Mr. Bergman and Mary Miller-Bergman, 57, a certified financial planner and founder of Hanover Hill Wealth Advisors, married in 2010. The couple enjoyed a shared enthusiasm for sailing, golf, art and travel. Mr. Bergman played a significant role in the upbringing of Mary's three children, Kiley, Jenna and Cameron.

"He and Mary were bursting with life," Mr. Crager said. "If you knew Mary, she was lighting the way for him."

Those closest to Mr. Bergman remember a brilliant mind and kind heart, along with an uncanny ability to make every person feel heard, valued and loved.

[Tribute video: InvestmentNews.com/judbergman]

Mr. Bergman, who was named an InvestmentNews Innovator in 2016, never strayed from his personal vision, even when others didn't see it. He may have even envisioned a successful Envestnet with others at the helm.

"I have a limited time left in this business and it's not 20 years. I don't want to sound aggrandized or romanticized, but I've come to my own sense about how fast things are going," he said in an InvestmentNews video interview a few months before his death. "Sometimes I take comfort in remembering that Moses saw the promised land, but he didn't go in. I have nothing but excitement and enthusiasm for the future of wealth management and the future of Envestnet."

[More:Envestnet launches tools to help improve adviser decisions]

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