From the September 2006 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Woodbury Financial Services

Big in size, main street in focus

Woodbury Financial is a big firm, with nearly 2,000 producing reps, and a big corporate parent in the form of The Hartford. But a simple comment on a Broker/Dealer of the Year ballot from one of Woodbury's reps was instructive on the firm's personal appeal to reps, an appeal that might sound more appropriate for a much smaller firm. When asked which broker/dealer he'd affiliate with if he couldn't be with Woodbury, the rep named another "smaller, regional firm," arguing that it would be "most like Woodbury. Woodbury is a relationship-based broker/dealer, which is what I like about them. You can get any B/D to process your business, but Woodbury seems to CARE [his emphasis] about the rep and tries to assist in my success." That's the kind of sentiment that will not only win Broker/Dealer of the Year honors, but also cement a rep's long-term commitment to the firm.

Brian Murphy, president of Woodbury Financial, admits that the firm is big, but points out that Woodbury reps and their clients are not big-time in the traditional sense. "We focus on independent reps. I distinguish that by saying we are really going after Main Street type-reps as opposed to Wall Street, wirehouse-type reps."

Murphy says Woodbury likes to focus on growth--"We've been growing at a compound annual growth rate of over 20% since we became Woodbury in 2001," though he says that the "seeds of Woodbury go back to 1910 and we've been a broker/dealer since 1949." Murphy projects growth "north of a 35% increase in revenue this year," fueled by helping reps grow their practices and being active and successful in recruiting.

Projecting that Woodbury's kind of rep will be "challenged in the future to meet the multifaceted needs of their clients," the firm is helping reps be better business people, which includes writing business plans and in some instances "affiliating with other representatives that may bring with them a different expertise." The message Murphy is sending to reps is direct: "Don't run it by accident, run your business on purpose. And we want them to engage with their clients' lifelong needs."

To that end, Woodbury's reps need to be equally skilled in insurance-based products as well as money management, and to help, the firm has "an infrastructure that supports advanced marketing attorneys, tax experts, retirement planning experts, and other kinds of internal support."

Summing up, Murphy says Woodbury is "very entrepreneurial, just like our reps, so from a Karma standpoint we approach things the same way." He also has a warning for wirehouse and "captive" reps, and a prediction on the independent broker/dealer business. "If you think you're going to be growing your business in the future, then you're not growing it for yourself," he says. "Others will be the beneficiaries of your sweat equity. As reps awaken to the fact that there are two distinct values they have as business owners--their current revenue and the value of their practice in the future--and once they realize that they're losing control of that second piece by not being independent, they won't just migrate [to the independent B/D model], they'll rush to take control of their destiny."--James J. Green

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