From the July 2007 issue of Boomer Market Advisor • Subscribe!

We asked top broker/dealers, "What are you doing to ensure quality service?"

"AT THE END of the first quarter, we instituted a team approach to serving our advisors. We've actually always had a team approach, but this regional system is a step further. It combines our regional vice-presidents with our support and compliance departments. There are five regional teams scattered throughout the country. If the advisor has a problem or question, it's routed to his particular team for the customer service rep to answer. If the CSR needs additional assistance, he can solicit help from the entire team. We feel regional teams are important in order for our staff to really get to know the customer's business and process (and by customer I mean the advisor, because the advisor is our customer). We also have a support team for product-specific questions, which feeds off the AIG Advisors Network. Even though it's a different team for product questions, the regional team still monitors the situation and is ultimately responsible for seeing it through. Lastly, we have wizards set up on our Web site for the advisor's office staff to use. They save time and help with the paperwork when dealing with high-networth individuals. As we all know, the paperwork can get pretty complicated in these situations." -- JAMES R. CANNON

"THE NATURE OF United Planners' means that we are attracted to an individual with a sizable practice and a significant amount of experience. As a result, they demand a high level of service from us. As we've grown, our support staff has grown with us. We've had people sit on NASD regional committees to be aware of what's coming down the pike. We're proactive about issues that have the potential to impact the advisor's business. We refer to ourselves as the smallest major broker/dealer in the business. What we've found is that, when it comes to quality service, it's never just one thing. It's a combined effort that ensures we properly service our reps. It's the steps we all take." -- THOMAS H. OLIVER

"OUR BACK OFFICE GUYS are having the most fun of anyone in the industry. And Idon't hear that from them, I hear that from the advisors and reps they service. We made a point of going out and recruiting seasoned veterans for our back office. Our operations department is in constant touch with the rep to update him on the progress of a specific task. Reps get upset about commissions and other things, but [the operations department] is where the broker/dealer loses reps. We're small enough where I can have an open-door policy. We're this size by choice in order to provide top-notch service. As a result, we don't lose reps. We're truly independent, we have no debt and we're profitable. Many of the larger firms laugh at us, and say we can't compete. I say, "You have 10 times the revenue we do, but we still make more money than you." -- TERRY BUFFALO

"EACH REP IS ASSIGNED a key account manager, all of whom have their Series 7 and Series 24. This person handles questions about margins, commission checks or anything else the rep might need. If a message needs to be left for some reason, the rep will get a call back within the hour. If the problem or question needs to be referred to someone else, the key account manager is still held accountable for its resolution. One thing to understand is this: We clear for 150 other broker/dealers, so we know process, and we know what needs to be done to keep the reps happy." -- SCOTT MONTES

"IN THE PAST YEAR, we introduced Experience SII, a suite of services for our employees that ranged from tuition reimbursement to stress reduction and time management seminars. We did this in partnership with Fox Valley Technical College. We also teamed with Wells Real Estate Fund for a program called Financial DNA. This includes looking into the role of behavioral science in asset management, figuring out personality types that work well together. We increased our staff education in the 1031 and REIT sectors (it's only in the last few years that we've seen interest brewing in these sectors). In the back office, we have a very low average answer speed in our phone loop that is so the rep isn't sitting on hold. If a message is left, we have a policy of returning phone calls within one hour (for vice-presidents and above it's same day return calls). Our advisor business is growing handsomely year over year and we really want to make sure we hire the right people. Traditionally, our industry has just thrown people at growth, but we want the right people. It can no longer be just anybody. We have specific and measurable goals for our staff. Boomers are in their spending years and end products are now more complex. If we have exemplary service, the boomer niche will be a lucrative niche for a long, long time." -- TODD KINART

"PLANMEMBER HAS SOMETHING unique. It's the only broker/dealer that has a call center for clients. It's important because it helps offload some of the timeconsuming tasks that don't earn the reps money. We took 40,000 calls last year. We also have a great fulfillment department that I call a mini-Kinkos. We have business development officers that assist reps in fee-based enterprise building. We are heavy into the fee transition, and these guys are not wholesalers, they are not salespeople. They are true consultants. Because we have five different fee-based platforms, most of our reps are asset gatherers, not asset managers. They can offload the re-balancing and allocation to us." -- KEVIN TWOHY

"A TOP OBJECTIVE is to make sure it's easier to do business with us than with our competitors. With that in mind, we think of both the reps and the end clients as our customers, and we think everything through to the end client. Our goal is to answer 90 percent of the calls that come through in our Resource Center, so we staff the Resource Center with some of the most experienced people in the company. Right now we have less than a 20-second hold time and we have a 98-percent answer rate. We also make use of cutting edge telephony technology. All calls that are handed off to our functional experts are warm handoffs, and the initial contact stays with the caller. Each of the broker/dealers in the ING Advisors Network has consultants that do on-site training. We offer Advisory University, our bachelors' level training course that does in-depth training six times each year on new products. We also offer a master level course to more advanced reps. Lastly, we make good use of our SmartWorks platform. We now offer online account opening through Pershing. The ease-of-use capabilities of our technology are focused on getting reps away from technology, so they can spend more time with clients." -- KEVIN LARAIA

"WE RECENTLY PARTNERED with Canon Financial Institute to offer their Certified Wealth Specialist designation. It's a comprehensive course that includes books, videos and Capstones. It also provides business plans and marketing strategies for the rep to hold himself out as a true wealth planner so the client can easily understand the process. It involves a 13-step financial planning process. This sets client expectations up front. They see the beginning, middle and end, which they like. It instructs the rep to describe his business as, "We work with our clients' wealth management plans comprehensively." -- JENNIFER BACARELLA

"WE OFFER SECURITIES AMERICA University, which is an internal professional development training program that's based on the technical aspects of our business, such as products, investment strategies and financial planning topics. It also focuses on leadership development and trains our staff on delivering extraordinary service. We offer financial incentives for employees to get their Associates, Bachelors, Masters or Masters Plus degrees through SAU. In addition, we have a generous tuition reimbursement program that strongly encourages the professional development of our employees. We provide 100 percent of tuition, books and fees for up to 15 credit
hours of college courses per calendar year with a grade of B or better. We also pay 80 percent of the cost of obtaining the CFP or CFA designation and give incentives for obtaining the Series 7 and Series 24 securities
licenses. Lastly, we have our RepCentric Certification program that includes training on delivering extraordinary
service to our representatives so that they can deliver quality financial counsel and service to their clients." -- KIRK HULETT

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