Reps of Securities America Inc. are thrilled with the company's new initiative, a knowledge-sharing and peer support program called AskSamX, which makes use of the Internet so that reps can share their brain power with each other to enhance the business performance of their practices.
AskSamX--which stands for "Ask Securities America Experts"--is a multifaceted offering whose cornerstone is an online e-mail listserv through which advisors can ask questions on any topic ranging from financial and estate planning to college and retirement planning, and get an array of answers from their peers via e-mail. It also has a wealth management blog, where users have access to commentaries and articles posted by experts in various fields. Its third component is an online directory, where reps are classified according to their area of expertise. Finally, AskSamX also helps create special advisor-led conference presentations arranged by Securities America, where those with specific expertise can present their work to a broader audience.
Reps who have already signed on to the service believe it fills a much-needed void in their practices because it allows them to share their knowledge and their experience with others, and gain from the experience of others in areas where they might not be so well versed. AskSamX also allows reps to find each other easily and determine who is an expert in what, thereby opening up the channels of communication and encouraging a free flow of information between reps across the country.
"This forum provides a way for all of us to expand our knowledge base and better serve our clients," says Lori Price, the principal at Wilton, Connecticut-based Price Financial Corp. "It seems as though we have a core group that are really helpful in sharing their ideas and experiences and, hopefully, the more experienced planners have a chance to mentor a large number of other planners without a big time commitment."
"From an industry perspective, this is a great program because it is a real brain trust of hundreds of advisors who don't always run into the same situation," says Louis Morizio, founder and president of the Center for Financial Planning in Albany, New York. "It is a tremendous resource and I feel like I'm learning something all the time."
Securities America had been working with the idea of providing a collaborative, technology-based support system from the beginning of this year, say Paul Lofties and Steve McWhorter, the VP for wealth management services and chairman and CEO, respectively, of the Omaha-based broker/dealer. Ultimately, the firm decided its reps would be best served by sharing their collective expertise in an open forum that promotes debate and discussion.
"We are using the communication tools available today to harness the knowledge of our reps and to better our workforce overall," Lofties says.
"We always had reps asking us for support in some area, and we would either answer those questions ourselves or reach out to vendors," McWhorter says. "It's a challenge, though, for independent broker/dealers to have answers to [all the] questions, so we thought it best to rely upon the collective expertise of our reps. The Internet allows for this."
Indeed, the reps themselves agree that the best part about AskSamX is the quick access to information it provides, and in the two months that the program's listserv feature has been available, it has already proven to be a hit.
"In the past, when I had a question for say, an attorney, I would have to rely on my contacts and wait a long while for an answer," Morizio says. "Now, I just have to send out an e-mail on AskSamX and I'll not only get answers faster from a lot of different places, I'll also have more, better quality ones to choose from."
Advisors find it greatly beneficial to be a part of a collegial kind of system, agrees Price. AskSamX has allowed for a number of interesting discussions, she says, citing a recent one that had to do with where annual fees for IRA managed accounts should be taken from. Members of the listserv have also had discussions spanning the gamut of variable annuities; life insurance; the use of trusts; estate planning; the value of REITs; concentrated stock positions, and 1031 exchanges, Price says. Participants have shared technology tips with each other, and in just about every discussion, reps have had their chance to weigh in with both advice and caution for their colleagues, she says.
"In addition to gaining creative solutions to financial and estate planning cases, [AskSamX] has increased my knowledge of the products and services offered through Securities America that would have taken a lot longer for me to know about," Price says.
Thus far, about 125 of Securities America's 1,800 reps have signed on to the listserv, Lofties says, and he expects a greater number to join going forward as the company continues to market the service and through rep word of mouth.
The answers to questions generated by the listserv are archived to the AskSamX blog, along with those advanced planning articles and case studies.
Savita Iyer is a freelance business journalist based in Geneva, Switzerland. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.