Shortly after Scott Romine was tapped as the chief executive officer of National Planning Corp. in May, he conducted a much anticipated conference call with the independent broker-dealer's 1,250 advisors.
Among their top queries: What does this mean going forward -- a whole new vision? Will you turn things upside down? Were you brought in because things weren't working right?
Romine, 42, didn't dodge the bullet.
Then, as now, he says: "I'm the first to acknowledge that change is uncomfortable. It brings with it a sense of the unknown. I just want everyone to know this change should be celebrated. I'm not here to shake things up but, rather, to continue building on the firm's vision with passion and enthusiasm. There's a ton of opportunity right now."
Scott Romine, CEO, National Planning Corp.Headquarters: Santa Monica, Calif.Sound Bite: "In the positions [Jackson National Life executives] have approached me about [heading], I always ask if they're telling me or asking me. It's our running joke."
Romine, a 10-year veteran of Jackson National Life -- which owns NPC -- succeeds M. Shawn Dreffein, who retired unexpectedly three months ago to focus on politics. Dreffein, 51, had pretty much built NPC, known for its commitment to technology. The firm has been web-based since it was founded in 1998.
"I'm bringing a fresh set of eyes and a new perspective. We've never been complacent," says Romine. "Part of the culture, part of our success, is that we don't become complacent. We're always looking for ways to improve."
The firm's "relative newness" to the broker-dealer arena has given it an advantage from a technological standpoint, according to Romine. As he puts it, "We weren't saddled with some old mainframe that our parent company said: 'Patch it and make it work.' All our technology is web-based, so we can make changes quickly and fluidly."
As an example, NPC rolled out significant enhancements to its electronic order-entry system earlier this year, and more are coming. Romine reports the firm is on its way to becoming "absolutely" paperless.
Romine, a Southern Californian, comes to financial services honestly; he's been an insider since he was a kid. A grandfather started a broker-dealer in Beverly Hills in the 1950s. His father had an insurance company. Romine himself had a property and casualty insurance license at age 18. In fact, he worked full-time at the family insurance firm while he attended California Lutheran University. He has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Cal Lutheran and an MBA from Pepperdine University.
"I was one of those goofy kids who wore a suit to school. I started on the insurance side of the business, but I always wanted to be a stockbroker -- that was the goal," says Romine, who eventually became a broker with Dean Witter. "I just loved the market. I always wanted to be part of it."
Over the last 10 years, Romine has worked in various leadership capacities for Jackson National Life. Most recently, he served as senior vice president for Jackson National Life Distributors, where he was responsible for leading the external sales force and building relationships in Jackson's regional and wirehouse broker-dealer distribution channel. He launched the channel in 2002. Before that, he was focused on the independent broker-dealer side.
It's exposure that he says has helped prepare him for his new role.
"I've worked directly with reps in every position I've had in the industry. I've always enjoyed the interaction and certainly that's one of the most important parts of my job now," says Romine, who also oversees a home office staff of 147 people at the firm's headquarters in Santa Monica.
"My guiding influence is: How can I make a difference for these reps? My job as we move forward is to make sure our reps have the products and services and the support all in place to meet the needs [of investors.] The financial landscape has gotten very complex. There's a huge need for retirement planning, retirement income planning, estate planning. Our job is to reach out to the reps in the field and ask them what they need and want -- then deliver it."
In addition to his CEO duties, Romine will also lead the firm's recruiting effort. The target: an advisor with at least five years in the business and gross dealer concession of $250,000. Currently, the average GDC of a National Planning Corp. rep is $156,494, with the top 20 percent averaging $431,770.
It was Clifford Jack, a Jackson National executive, who first approached Romine about taking on the CEO's role.
"He understands each aspect of the broker-dealer business and recognizes that NPC's rep-centric culture has been a key element to the firm's success," according to Jack. "He's completely engaged in the business and consistently supplies his management team with the confidence and tools required to run the firm on a day-to-day basis. His industry experience enables him to understand what reps are looking for to grow their practices, to talk their language and to deliver the solutions that matter most to not only reps, but the investing public as well."
Romine, meanwhile, is hunkering down and meeting new challenges.
"I love being back on the retail side with exposure to the entire business -- not just the distribution world I was in," he says. "In a variety of roles over the last 10 years, sometimes I've been asked to fix things, sometimes I've been asked to grow things. I'm so excited in this position because the infrastructure is here. I've been asked to continue to grow it."---
Freelance writer Ellen Uzelac is based in Chestertown, Md., and is a contributing editor of Research.