From the March 2007 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Ameriprise Adds to CFP Focus as Barnash Joins Firm in Chicago

Thanks to patience, persis-tence and some necessity, Ameriprise Financial has hired former Financial Planning Association chairman and president Jim Barnash, 52, to head up its national financial planning efforts. Barnash has joined the North Chicago branch, where he will also support the company's renewed recruiting efforts.

The Minneapolis-based broker-dealer has expanded its FA force to nearly 12,600, including some 1,760 in the Securities America group and about 7,500 franchisee or independent Ameriprise FAs. But its retention of branded employee advisors has generally been about 60 percent, and its ranks have remained around 3,000 in the last two years. The company would like to strengthen this channel with the assistance of Barnash and through related measures.

"Being on a sustainable career path may be a more desirable long-term goal for some financial planners," explains Josh Rogers, field vice president for the Chicago market. "If we can raise the gross dealer concessions (or payouts), as well, all of Ameriprise Financial gets stronger. This is the game plan."

And it's a game plan that Barnash, known as "Mr. CFP" by some in the industry, has a key role in. "It's really a nice fit to help make us the most dominnant in [financial planning]," adds Rogers, 31.

"Plus, we've been attracting other leaders, like Manish Dave from the Bank of America," who is heading up Ameriprise's recruiting of experienced FAs,"' Rogers continues. "We have some $500,000 producers joining in the Northwest and Dallas. There's a lot going on."

"This was a strong quarter for Ameriprise Financial, and it was a fitting conclusion to a highly successful first year as a public company," comments Jim Cracchiolo, chairman and chief executive officer.

"We are generating positive momentum in our business metrics as we continue to establish Ameriprise Financial as a financial services leader," Cracchiolo explains. "Growth in owned, managed and administered assets, mass affluent and affluent clients, financial plans and cash sales all accelerated in the fourth quarter. We increased our branded advisor count and substantially increased productivity."

Nonetheless, the company has to wrestle with improving its retention of employee advisors. This figure declined about 3 percent in 2006 to end the year at 3,178. By pulling in Barnash and other experienced executives, this challenge may get easier, some experts say.

As for Barnash, it took all of 2006 and then some to make the deal happen, according to Rogers. And the Chicago-based executive had some critical help, relying on the initiative and cooperation of recruiter Mark Bradley of J.R. Scott & Associates, the executive search arm of Chicago-based Esquire Staffing, who believes Barnash's new post represents Ameriprise's commitment to financial planning and the associated Dream Book marketing campaign.

"Barnash is a natural addition, since Ameriprise has more CFPs -- 2,800 -- than anyone," says Bradley. "So why should he be anywhere else, from a perspective of Ameriprise's growth and development strategy?

"His hiring sends a clear message to the marketplace and to the company's employees," adds Bradley. "The company is saying, 'This is the kind of commitment we have to this strategy. We have literally created a position for him to capitalize on his strength and the inculcation of his career. His talent will benefit Ameriprise nationwide.' "

For Barnash, the timing couldn't have been better. "I've been in financial planning since 1988," he explains. And in his work at the Financial Planning Association -- including six years as a volunteer and in executive leadership -- he came in contact with many firms.

After 10 years at Lincoln, Barnash says it made plenty of sense to move to Ameriprise, where the number of planners has been on the rise. He met with Rogers and Bob Whalen.

"There's a vision of the organization and its tools being put into place to help financial advisors service clients that is phenomenal," says Barnash. "Even the janitors are talking about it," referring to the Dream Book marketing and planning effort that Ameriprise rolled out in late 2005.

Still, Barnash adds, the ultimate decision to switch firms wasn't easy. "Lincoln has been wonderfully supportive of me and my work at the FPA. It was a tough decision. But I do share a vision with Ameriprise in connection with financial planning and the tools that can go to support those who want to do it."

For the financial planner, the newly created post at Ameriprise is just what the doctor ordered. In his contact with Bradley, the recruiter of record, and company executives he got a clear message: "Tell us what your dream job is, and let's see if we can create it," Barnash explains. "That speaks to the creative flexibility of the leadership at Ameriprise."

It also speaks to Ameriprise's push to raise the productivity of its advisors, especially those in the employee channel, where payouts have tended to be below $300,000 a year. The company aims to get those in this group to meet or beat this level over the next five years.

Another short-term objective is to attract advisors who have had yearly sales of $100,000-$500,000 but aren't feeling very welcome at the major wirehouse broker-dealers. "As other players squeeze these guys out, they aren't getting a lot a' love," explains Rogers. "We'd like to get them in and show them more love.

"We also see ourselves as good for the $500,000-$1 million producer," he adds. "But all the wirehouses are in a massive talent war. All the dogs are chasing the same bone."

This is also true of the mass affluent. "As many players chase the high-net-worth and ultra- high-net-worth, this group is hugely underserved," according to Rogers, and it's growing in numbers as baby boomers age.

Meanwhile, the company has to wrestle with improving retention of employee advisors. This figure declined about 3 percent in 2006 to end the year at 3,178.

"When advisors who are producing $300,000 a year at the traditional wirehouses find themselves being pushed out, they can find an attractive opportunity at Ameriprise," Rogers says. "Ameriprise is offering competitive transition packages and cash payouts that are very attractive in our employee platform."

As part of its spin-off from American Express, the company took a fresh look at the marketplace about two years ago and decided to focus on the largest group of investors, Bradley explains. It's an investor class, he adds, that is being ignored by many other players.

"You have to get past American Express," explains the recruiter. "This is a new brand and a new company, which is at the early stages of evolution."

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Janet Levaux is the managing editor of Research; reach her at jlevaux@researchmag.com.

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