From the January 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Poster Boy

Back in 2002, Bill Van Law was a disillusioned wirehouse veteran, looking to explore the independent sector. At an interview with Raymond James & Associates, Van Law had what he calls an "awakening."

"I'm sitting in an office, looking out the window, and they are building Tower Four [of the Raymond James complex.] Talk about the writing on the wall. Here's a firm, in the middle of a bear market, and it's growing. Not only that, client assets are growing. And I'm thinking, 'Wow, this is pretty neat.'"

Neat, indeed. Van Law, 44, accepted a position to build and run the firm's independent employee business. Most recently, he was in charge of 75 branches in the firm's mid-states division. Last fall, Raymond James Financial Services CEO Dick Averitt reached across to his sister company, tapping Van Law to re-energize his firm's lagging recruiting effort. He could not have picked a more apt poster boy.

"Just like Bill, most of our recruits come from wirehouses. His own story resonates with these folks," says Averitt. "There's his character, his drive, his experience, his intelligence. And he has this ability to manage, to grasp and deliver."

Van Law, who replaces longtime insider Bill McGovern, has no small task ahead of him. Although Raymond James Financial Services just reported its third consecutive record year -- $890.2 million in revenues on assets of $110 billion, for the period ended Sept. 30 -- its recruiting numbers are off.

The firm historically has had a goal of 20-percent revenue growth a year, half attributable to new hires and half to existing advisors. This past year, revenue was up almost 11 percent on a compounded basis. As Averitt puts it, "the adding new people part" hasn't worked as well as it should the last five years. "Our numbers have gone down a bit," he adds. "We're not quite as good as we used to be."

Van Law's hire signals a shift in recruiting strategy, which has been national in scope but centered at Raymond James Financial Services headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla. Under way: a plan to operate six regional offices across the country and to expand the number of recruiters from six to as many as 20. The first new office opened in Phoenix in October. Staff will be responsible not only for attracting new advisors but helping existing ones grow their teams.

"We think this will be a better model to accomplish higher levels of growth," according to Van Law, who is also a member of the firm's board of directors. "We're going to be more focused on the processes we use, on our service-first culture and on the story we have to tell. The story is so compelling; it's just a matter of tweaking it a bit and doing a better job of getting out there to tell it. It's a whole bunch of little things that when put together will create a different experience."

Van Law has always been interested in financial services -- not surprising since his father, also a Bill, was a longtime Merrill Lynch broker who, his son likes to point out, ended his career at Raymond James. The younger Van Law joined his father's business in 1984 and spent three years prospecting for new clients through cold calls, direct mail and seminars. After that, he struck out on his own -- receiving several awards reserved for the top 2 percent of Merrill's financial advisors.

A certified financial planner, Van Law focused on financial and estate planning along with portfolio management. He also became adept at seminars, hosting one a month over a 10-year-period. When he gave up his book in 1997 to go into management, his business was mostly fee-based, he had built a five-person team and he was doing more than $1 million a year in production.

"I built a million-dollar practice and I loved it. The reality is you get to a point where if you're going to excel, you have to make choices. I just felt like I could have a bigger impact on a broader number of people in management," says Van Law, who worked as a branch manager, a district sales manager and the director of two complexes. When he left Merrill for Raymond James, he was in charge of five North Carolina offices, with just under 100 advisors.

When Van Law first considered making the switch, he latched on to a figure from a research firm that showed that in the bear market, client assets at Raymond James Financial Services were up 10 percent, the highest of any firm surveyed. The next closest firm: down 9 percent. "I'm positive about the number," he says. "I've used it hundreds of times."

Like Van Law, most of his prospective recruits come from wirehouses. Today, more than ever, he says he has a story to tell.

"With all the changes occurring out there -- changes in management structures, acquisitions, changes in corporate policy -- the opportunity in this business is huge," says Van Law. "We have a story that resonates very well with many high-quality FAs. Our goal, simply, is to do a better job telling it."

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Bill Van Law

National Director of Business Development, Raymond James Financial Services

Home Base: St. Petersburg, Fla.

What CEO Dick Averitt says about Van Law: "Partly what he brings to the mix is who he is. He has a unique experience. He's been there, done that."

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