How Raymond James Boosts Female Advisors

As women make strides at the firm as advisors, one group discusses how to boost their presence in wealth management

Advisor Margaret Starner participates in a roundtable during the Raymond James Women's Symposium on Thursday. Advisor Margaret Starner participates in a roundtable during the Raymond James Women's Symposium on Thursday.

Boosting the number and role of women is an objective of Raymond James (RJF) and other firms in the wealth management business. But how do you make that happen?

During the 18th annual Women’s Symposium hosted by the firm in St. Pete Beach, Fla., a roundtable of six advisors discussed that very issue exclusively with AdvisorOne over lunch on Thursday.

Of Raymond James' 6,000-plus advisors, about 14% are women. In the first year of its training program for new reps, the Advisor Mastery Program, 35% of its participants were women.

An important part of supporting women in the business, they say, is having the right culture. This includes taking steps to support female advisors and other women throughout the firm and doing as much as possible to encourage the formation of advisor teams.

“I am pleased with the program that—through a system of competency points—recognizes support staff,” said Kathleen Crowley of Raymond James Morgan Keegan in Panama City, Fla. “The culture is very different from what I experienced in the past at some places.”

“I see it as family friendly and as more than a corporation,” added Cheryl Peschke, an employee advisor with Raymond James & Associates (RJA) in Houston.

The support advisors need in the field, they note, can mean shaking things up a bit at headquarters—which Raymond James has been willing and able to do—and talking up such challenges openly.

“At the corporate level, some people had gotten very comfortable in their jobs, but they had to improve. So Raymond James is taking these employees that are seen as 'nice but …' and moving some along,” said Margaret Starner with RJA in Coral Gables, Fla.

“It’s uplifting to those of us looking for [top] service. And we had heard about what Raymond James was doing, but then we heard more about it here today with coherency and continuity,” Starner said. “It was well articulated, and it never crossed my mind that it would be discussed like this.”

Others agree. “The fact that it was spoken about is very good,” said Rachel McNeil, an advisor and participant in the company’s training program in St. Petersburg, Fla. “It’s not about changing the culture but addressing these issues.”

Starner sees the move to boost service and performance at the corporate level as a renewed drive for accountability led by CEO Paul Reilly. “It’s a big morale lifter,” she added.

For those joining the firm, these measures translate into positive results. “I was afraid when I would dial the 800 number at some other firms,” said Sarah Komischke, who is part of the bank channel and works at the United Nations Federal Credit Union.

“Raymond James is very helpful in the back office, which is a very positive surprise,” said the ex-JPMorgan Chase and Merrill Lynch employee. “You get an answer very quickly.”

Glass Ceiling?

As for women having the influence and presence they would like to have in wealth management, “We and the industry are not quite there yet, but we hope to get there,” said McNeil.

And the firm they’re with supports this effort, they add. “We see with what [RJA President] Tash Elwyn and others are saying that there is big commitment to it,” explained Starner.

Do they feel, as women, that they are an equal part of the Raymond James organization?

“We have brought that up every year,” said Starner, whose practice manages $350 million in assets. “And there are women executives, like Bella” Loykhter Allaire, head of technology and Operations for RJF.

“The leadership wishes we had more [women in management] and aspires to that goal,” the veteran advisor noted. “This is a situation common to all firms and to the industry.”

When it comes to increasing the number of women advisors in the business, some female reps say this can best be supported through team building and succession.

“My theory is that women are more comfortable giving advice if they feel they have a high degree of competency,” said Starner. If they know they are set to be part of experienced teams, “Women will be more comfortable joining and being advisors.”

McNeil says that is certainly the case for her. “As part of my training, I joined a team one year ago,” she said. “I decided I wanted to join an established group and not go out on my own.”

For her—as well as for other advisors, young and old alike—it’s an issue of watching their own finances while striving to help their clients do the same. “It’s tough to be out on your own, in terms of financial stability. For me, it’s helpful that I can join a team through the training program.”

The team support can also help advisors better serve clients, other reps say.

“Many young people have not had the life experience of going through different markets and seeing lots of volatility,” said Jodi Perez, an affiliate of Raymond James’ independent channel in Land O’Lakes, Fla. “It’s a good choice to join a team.”

Generally speaking, women know they can’t do everything and be experts of everything, Perez says. And like their clients, they want to have backup at all times.

With the market’s low returns today, “We are busier than ever. This is tough,” said Starner. “But it’s an opportunity, and we don’t know how long this opportunity will last.”

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