Schwab Opens Online RIA University; TD Ameritrade Plans Web-based Training Center

Schwab said tools should help back-office productivity; TD Ameritrade's effort to begin in fall

Charles Schwab introduced its online Schwab Advisor University on Wednesday, June 16, to help its 6,000-plus independent RIA firms improve their businesses. On the same day, TD Ameritrade announced plans to launch a special online education and training center in the fall for its 4,000-plus independent RIA clients.

For Schwab, the new classes and training programs are based online at the Schwab Advisor Center, Schwab's Web site for its RIA clients. They have been designed to train RIA operations and support staff on using Schwab's numerous tools and resources.

In a Schwab study of some 1,050 independent advisors clients done in late 2009, nearly 70% of advisors said they would find it useful to receive training on how to best use Schwab's technology tools.

According to Schwab, improvements in back-office staff productivity should be a direct benefit of using tools highlighted in the classes. In addition, the university could help advisors save time and money.

"Advisors tell us that maximizing productivity and efficiency to enable growth is one of their top business priorities," said Julie Sunwoo, vice president of business consulting for Schwab Advisor Services, in a press release.

"Schwab Advisor University is designed to provide a flexible and practical environment for staff to sharpen skills and improve performance in a range of operational areas so team members can spend more time serving clients and doing their part to help their firms grow," Sunwoo explained

In a statement, Patty Meneley, COO and compliance officer of Sargent Bickham Lagudis in Boulder, Colo., said, "The University provides an easy way to get people up to speed quickly, and also to evaluate if they learned what they needed to learn."

Schwab Advisor University is designed to work in conjunction with Schwab's Technology Adoption Scorecard to identify areas for improving firm productivity and address them with specific training. This benchmark, launched in 2008, has been used by more than 3,000 advisory firms.

Schwab Advisor University includes 12 self-paced courses and reference materials, including a course series designed for first-time users of Schwab Advisor Center tools. The online curriculum covers the four categories of Schwab tools - new accounts, account servicing, moving money, and trading and research.

Specific classes focus on topics such as back office processing for equity and mutual fund web trading.

"The training helps me tremendously as a manager. I don't have to make time myself or take someone away from my team to sit with someone who needs training. It's invaluable to me," said Cynde Lee, director of operations and chief compliance officer at Bay Area-based Sand Hill Advisors LLC, in a statement.

"I like the interactivity and that I can get a report to let me know how employees are doing and whether they've completed the training," Lee explained.

"The fact that it's online allows you to work according to your own schedule, so you can't beat the convenience," said Mike Schmidt, senior vice president and chief compliance officer at Milwaukee-based Diversified Management, Inc., in a release. "I need to train new hires, and at the same time do my own work. Anything I can delegate to an online solution is really appealing to me."

TD Ameritrade's Portal

In the fall, TD Ameritrade's RIA clients should have access to a special online education and training center designed to help them enhance their expertise, obtain professional certifications and designations from third-party institutions, and develop the skills and talents of key employees, the company said in a press release on June 16.

Spending on professional development and training is up 30% over the last six months according to an April 2010 recent survey of 500 RIAs.

The survey found that RIAs are investing in professional development for both themselves and their employees to meet the new challenges and opportunities of today's financial industry.

"As the business of providing advice continues to become more complex and competitive, advisors should consider investing in professional development to enhance their staffs' knowledge and skill sets to maintain an industry-leading positioning," said Mike Watson, director of practice management for TD Ameritrade Institutional, in a press release.

"Our new education portal can be a valuable resource for RIAs and we are pleased to be one of the first custodians in the industry to offer a formal, comprehensive advisor education program," Watson added.

The education portal will give advisors the ability to access educational tracks for themselves and their employees as well as leverage industry-leading third-party courses and programs, the company says. It also will allow advisors to track staff participation and progress.

In addition, advisors will have access to TD Ameritrade business coaches who can design a professional development program to fit the needs of the advisor and staff.

"Continued education can help advisors to maintain credibility and add value for their clients," said Jeff Rossi, director of human capital development and client education, TD Ameritrade Institutional in a statement.

"By bringing a variety of courses, tools and content all together in one place, and by leveraging our human capital expertise, TD Ameritrade Institutional demonstrates a commitment to helping RIAs gain easier access to educational resources, leading them on a clearer path to better learning."

TD Ameritrade says its institutional advisor education platform will focus on investing skills, human capital, certification programs and designations, live events, publications and industry research.

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