(ORLANDO, FLA.) Raymond James Financial Services National Conference for Professional Development, held March 9-12 at the Orlando World Center Marriott Resort, featured publisher and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes, singer Kenny Loggins, and Spider-Man, along with a host of other Marvel superheroes. But the real treat for many of the 800 independent advisors in attendance was hearing presentations from some top advisors, executives and industry partners. FAs also enjoyed hands-on access to Raymond James' latest technology and programs, designed to further boost the performance of RJFS' 3,200 independent reps.
"Restoring the growth momentum of the firm is important to me," explains RJFS Chairman and CEO Dick Averitt. "We've taken a lot of steps to do this.
"In the last year and a half, our mantra has been, how can we make it easier for you to do business with us?" says Averitt. "Advisors are responding to this, recognizing it and appreciating it."
About a year ago, RJFS staged a "service summit" as part of its long-range planning efforts, according to Averitt. "We looked at how advisors answered the question: 'If I ran this company tomorrow what is the first thing -- from service and IT, to compliance and other systems -- that I would change?' We had 500 note cards, but tackled 14 items first. Today, I can say there's truly been some great progress, and we are really taking care of service issues."
Averitt says that the compliance department, led by Don Runkle, is focused on educating advisors and treating them with a "presumption of trust." This includes efforts like compliance road shows. "We will have eight this year, and they are packed. It's a huge change -- which is not to say we've softened our following of the rules and regulations -- we've just changed the tone."
In terms of new advisors, RJFS put a new regional recruiting model in place about 18 months ago. The model now includes 13 recruiters -- four of whom are women, shares Bill Van Law, national director of business development. This figure will grow a bit, he says, to 14 recruiters over the next few months.
"We're growing the firm in ways that differ from rivals who, say, are trying to go public and be very aggressive for that liquidity event. We are continuing our 18 percent to 20 percent revenue-growth trend, which we do by building the regional team and increasing the lead flow, which is up four-fold vs. 2006."
More than 20 home-office visits were set for RJFS' St. Petersburg, Fla., offices in April 2008. "Home office visits were up 83 percent in 2007 vs. 2006," Van Law adds. "A year ago, we had 13 prospects in San Diego vs. 36 this year in Orlando. We typically have a high close rate from the conferences."
Two of the 36 had signed on with RJFS as of April 5, and others plan to visit St. Pete before deciding whether or not to join. "With a weaker stock market, some advisors have an increased desire to move on and transition. Thanks to our high-quality team, we are seeing more activity," says Van Law.
"It looks like the first quarter of 2008 will be the top quarter for about two years -- and more than 50 percent higher in terms of revenue or productivity than the previous quarter," he explains. The number of advisors grew 42 percent in the first quarter of '08 and includes FAs from Smith Barney, Wachovia, Edward Jones and Morgan Stanley; and some from A.G. Edwards, LPL Financial and Merrill Lynch.
At its recent conference, RJFS rolled out an open-enrollment health insurance program and an administrative-support program called "Independence Plus." "Health care is a big issue for advisors looking to make things easier and simpler," notes Van Law.
The firm recruited nearly 30 new RJFS advisors in the first three months of 2008. It continues to recruit advisors with yearly sales of at least $250,000 and up, company executives say.
"The prospects, who come from a wide variety of firms, say our technology is really ahead of what they have," states Averitt. "We have made giant leaps in the past few years, but there are always 'to do' lists."
Chet Helck, COO of RJFS' parent firm Raymond James Financial, is one of several executives who makes sure these "to do" lists get done. He is emphasizing several Raymond James' strategies for 2008, including cash management services and accounts, in his meetings with FAs and on the job.
"As baby boomers retire and become responsible for creating income, we have to have the tools and mechanisms that can make that easy and compatible with our other forms of service," he shares. "These accounts are for retirees to use as their income gets distributed, and this entails services like bill paying. We want to make their financial lives as convenient to manage as possible. And our advice, the focal point of that advice, should be on core capital -- on creating income and making it last, rather than the logistics affecting that capital."
While some advisors might see this work as similar to that of a bank, that's no longer the case, Helck says. "Things have changed, and we need to be responsible for helping clients with the entire set of variables, including cash management services and accounts."
Beyond accounts, Raymond James is focused on "recalibrating the way our entire back office is structured to focus on relationships," according to Helck. While computer systems are account-centric, FAs "know clients as relationships, and we need systems like this, which are centered on customers. We are really focused on doing this. Not just IT -- it's a strategy for the whole business and will require that we re-design everything we do."
Helck acknowledges that entering "the new world of relationship management" won't be easy. "But we have to position FAs to deal with a client in ways that best make sense for them," he explains.
A key component of this transition, the database, is being rolled out in early 2008. "We're building this in layers," says Helck. "And you can't buy this at CompUSA," he quips.
In addition, a new website for investors is being introduced, and relationship management will be embedded in it. This is meant to help clients by allowing Raymond James to better understand their preferences as to account paperwork, reports, statements and mailings.
Plus, Raymond James is working to align its support systems so FAs are better able to conduct business with clients from a "needs-based point of view," says Helck. "Now we are crafting solutions for certain client objectives ... so FAs don't have to work from scratch every time and, say, go to five Raymond James experts when they're putting together a high-net-worth proposal.
A greater variety of retirement solutions will be coming out, he says, that build on what Raymond James has done in the HNW area. "We're talking about much more than portfolio management. This works across products, services, accounts and diversification. It's about everything, including non-investment type issues, such as gifting and creating a legacy."
"We are organizing the company to really work with FAs in a much more effective way," Helck concludes.
While some of these developments will take a top-down approach, there's a lot going on from the bottom up, such as the Practice Intelligence website and resource center for FAs. "We're also sharing best practices around the advisor business. It's about having discipline that can replace emotion. That's what money managers are all about," explains Helck.
"An extension of that is that we are striving to automate this as much as we can, so FAs can be consistent with clients over time without having to hire a lot of staff and can let the systems do much of the work."
This process includes customer-relationship management platforms and functions, he says, and represents a "major commitment" on the part of Raymond James. "There will be more and more automation going forward," says Helck. "We're talking about being more reliably, dependably and consistently process-driven, like you see in all successful industries."
Janet Levaux is the managing editor of Research; reach her at email@example.com.