Elizabeth Foley's election as chairman of Ameriprise Financial's franchisee advisory council could not have come at a more noteworthy time -- just a month after the firm's spin-off last fall from American Express Financial Advisors.
In the months since, Foley has helped guide the national council -- a voice for the firm's nearly 7,500 financial advisor franchisees -- through a series of high-profile moves. Chief among them: the restructuring of the firm's payout grid, to take effect in January, and the refinement of its core value proposition, financial planning.
"We need to have the corporation and advisors aligned so that our objectives are the same," says Foley, 42, a certified financial planner who operates Bryant Foley & Associates with partner Ralph Bryant Jr. in Southfield, Mich. "One thing I'd like to walk away with is seeing more advisors involved in the development of our company. You've got to put your time in. You've got to give back to make things succeed."
Foley, who has held various positions on the firm's regional and national councils for five years, is a huge cheerleader for the franchisee concept. Like her constituents, she pays Ameriprise a fee in exchange for using the national brand, resources, products and services. But the practice, with $100 million in assets under management, is hers and Bryant's to grow and, eventually, sell. "As our clients know, we have skin in the game," she says.
Foley got her career start on Wall Street, working in the stock and bond delivery area of Bankers Trust Co. She moved back home to Michigan in 1989, joining IDS Financial Advisors, which was owned by American Express.
"I knew I wanted to stay in financial services," says Foley, a graduate of the University of Michigan. "I'd been accepting and delivering stocks and bonds for four years. What I wanted to know was: How do you decide what to buy and sell? The firm's message then, and now, was all about financial planning -- not just about falling into things, but planning for them."
Her first few years as a planner, however, were a struggle. "I was 25 or 26 and looked like I was 19. Nothing can be done about that. But as soon as I talked to prospects and mentioned the University of Michigan and said I'd worked on Wall Street for four years, it gave me credibility. They'd at least listen to me."
Some of Foley's most compelling work on the national advisory council has been focused on financial planning -- the company's "backbone," as she puts it.
"I want our company to truly succeed, and to make that happen you have to choose a focus. Financial planning has always been that focus but it got mixed in with a lot of other stuff -- vast amounts of paperwork that didn't allow advisors to run their business efficiently," Foley notes. "To truly succeed and stand out from the crowd, we need to refine the financial planning process, to polish it."
To that end, Foley adds, a project team has taken Ameriprise's financial planning concept, "tearing it to the bones and rebuilding, refreshing it with new tools and new everything."
A set of "new deliverables" will be unveiled this quarter, including a combination of tools and the software to support them. On tap: new training methods, business arrangements with specialty providers, enhanced investment products designed specifically for retiree markets, a heightened focus on wealth strategies.
Already in play: The Dream Book, a workbook geared to pre-retirees and retirees that gets clients to think beyond the numbers. Sample questions include: If you want to travel, where to? If you want to do volunteer work, what kind? How closely engaged do you want to be with family? Clearly, the Dream Book has hit a chord with clients. According to Foley, 35 percent of Ameriprise clients who were queried by direct mail requested a copy of it.
"We need to make sure the planning we are doing is dynamic. It's not a static thing where you crunch a bunch of numbers and you walk out of my office with a book. That's not financial planning; that's a document," she adds. "One of the great things about all this is that there is franchisee participation in the development of these products and services. These are ideas that aren't being formed in a vacuum of an analyst's office or corporate office. As a result of different input groups, it really is a team effort."
Ralph Bryant, her business partner of 11 years, calls Foley thorough, complete, personable and analytic, adding: "She makes a commitment to whatever it is she's doing and puts herself into it full bore."
[It is that sort of resolve that also governs her private passions. Not surprisingly, she races sailboats, trekked recently through the French and Italian Alps and now is planning to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.]
"I just like being involved with things. I have a lot of different interests. I want to be involved and influence what happens around me," Foley says. "I want to have a voice."
Chairman, National Franchisee Advisory Council
Home Base: Southfield, Mich.
Foley's charge: Serving as a voice for the company's 7,500 financial advisor franchisees
Sound Bite: "We're our own company again. It's beneficial, it's huge and very exciting. But it's taken a little bit of time for people to take in: What is this Ameriprise thing and why are you different?"