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Thursday, February 23, 2023

DFA Mourns a Distro Visionary

News summary by MFWire's editors

The Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA [profile]) is mourning a key architect of their distribution strategy.

The late Daniel "Dan" Wheeler
Dan Wheeler, the 77-year-old founder of DFA's financial advisor services group, died last weekend, DFA co-CEO Dave Butler confirms. It was Wheeler who broadened DFA's reach by bringing its offerings to financial advisors.

Daniel Wheeler, hailing from East St Louis, served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam war. He worked as an accountant and controller before becoming a Merrill Lynch stock broker. At 40, he quit to become an independent, fee-only financial advisor.

Wheeler was a big fan of Eugene Fama's efficient markets hypothesis, and when he heard about DFA's Fama-inspired approach to investing in the 1980s, he wanted in. At the time, DFA's distribution was solely through institutions, and Wheeler became the first FA to use its wares.

In 1989, Wheeler joined DFA to build out its distribution with other FAs. That included a special DFA twist on working with FAs: Wheeler organized special training events that were mandatory for FAs who wanted to use DFA's products. Wheeler and his team at DFA wanted FA allies who were committed to DFA's approach. Now, 34 years later, DFA has $584 billion in AUM, and about two-thirds of that is with FAs.

"Dan was convinced that there were other financial advisors who would share his enthusiasm for marrying independent and conflict-free financial advice with cost-effective investment strategies grounded in a scientific approach," Butler writes. "He just didn't know who they were, and they didn't know about Dimensional. With a larger-than-life personality and enough zeal to overcome the odds, he made this vision a reality."

Butler remembers Wheeler weighing in at a crucial moment in Butler's career.

"In 1994, I considered leaving financial services and becoming a basketball coach and teacher back in California. By luck, or by chance, I sat down with Dan and he walked me through a description of a new model of advice, a 'redefinition of investment advice,' as he liked to call it," Butler writes. "Dan was sure that a model built around the best interest of the client would win. That was my 'aha' moment, and I know of so many others through the years who have said the same about Dan."

Wheeler spent 22 years at DFA before retiring in 2011. Since then, he penned his own blog, Wheeler Writes.

Bryce Skaff, co-head of DFA's global client group, remembers Wheeler as "smart, passionate, infectious, generous, and caring."

"His departure from this world leaves a hole that won't be filled," Skaff writes.

Sam Adams, former head of financial advisor services, Europe at DFA, remembers Wheeler as a friend and mentor.

"If you don't know Dan, you should know that he changed the financial services industry," Adams writes. "Millions of investors now enjoy fee-based advice and low cost funds because of his work."

"If you want to see the human face of the passive investing revolution then Dan Wheeler is a good candidate," writes Robin Wigglesworth of the Financial Times. Wigglesworth adds that Wheeler "left an under-appreciated legacy in the financial world." 

Edited by: Neil Anderson, Managing Editor

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