October 8, 2013

A Techie Who Cares: Meet Trust Co.’s New Leader

With energy befitting a Silicon Valley startup, Trust Company of America reports best quarter ever

David Barry, CEO of Trust Company of America. David Barry, CEO of Trust Company of America.

Try and keep up with Dave Barry — the key word being “try.”

The charismatic and infectiously energetic CEO of Trust Company of America, which just reported the best quarter in its 40-year history, was trying to squeeze in as much in as possible during a recent whirlwind tour of the custodian’s Colorado campus, which meant the small group he was leading almost broke into a run.

The group made quick stops at the trading desk, service department, transition team, technology, even warehouse and fulfillment (with a peek at the gym for good measure) before a cautious conclusion in an active work zone; they viewed the complete remodeling of the spacious atrium in the building’s center.

The remodeling was an apt metaphor for the company as a whole, one that’s been successful in its roughly 40-year history, but subject to a number of “fits and starts,” as Barry put it.

The most recent was a heavy technology push two years ago, and the successful launch of its Liberty platform (“freedom, empowerment, movement; you get the idea,” we wrote at the time). Soon after then-CEO Frank Maiorano, citing a skill set better suited to sales and other client-facing endeavors than C-suite politics, left to head the RIA business at Baron Capital.

At about the same time, Fidelity made Bob Oros, TCA’s vice president of national sales, an offer he couldn’t refuse, and he was off to Boston to become the investment behemoth’s head of sales in its institutional wealth services division. Chief marketing officer Jennifer Nealson departed soon after.  

About the only remaining senior staff member was chief information officer Dennis Noto, responsible for heading something of an industry coup on the part of the company, of which it’s still proud — the ability for its affiliated RIAs to access company technology anywhere, anytime and on all major tablet brands.

“We're the only financial services company with that ability, period,” Joshua Pace, senior vice president of business development, proudly stated. “The advisor can trade for his clients while sitting under a tree in Central Park.”

It’s an attitude that made the atrium renovation particularly appropriate, as it seemed more suited to a Silicon Valley startup than what should be a staid financial services company. And that’s really the rub; Barry himself seemed better suited to the creativity (and whimsy) associated with the tech industry (he actually has a background in both that and retail). The fact that he’s able to transfer his style, skill set and, well, mania to the financial world might be exactly what it needs, especially with the rise of Gen Y and their penchant for modern communication tools and techniques, as well as a very different style of business than their older counterparts.

Joshua Pace, SVP at TCAA chat in his expansive office while preparing a latte (almost cliché at that point) revealed a childhood in Montreal and an entrepreneurial streak that pulled him away from home at a young age. His prior success running a number of companies led to his being asked six years ago to sit on TCA’s board. When Maiorano left, the board asked him to take the lead, figuring he knew the company and what it needed.

Tapping on random windows and cubicles to wave at seemingly dozens of employees on the aforementioned tour of the facility, Barry’s anecdote about a recent project illustrated his philosophy.

“We finished up and the person running the project wondered what to do next,” he related. “I said, ‘I don’t know, you tell me.’ I gave her three weeks. She went back to her office, and the term isn’t up yet, but I see her furiously scribbling on white boards. I avert my eyes and hurry past so I don’t see it until it’s ready to present.”

That type of employee empowerment is a hallmark of his leadership style; the atrium will have room for town hall-style meetings in which discussions of what the company is doing right, as well as where they’re “blowing it,” will be encouraged.

Barry at one point proudly pointed to an employee who recently won an award for service excellence from a partner firm, which the latter noted was the first time it was given to someone other than its own employees.

All of which is great for the company, great for employees and great for morale, but what about that other critical part — the RIAs they service?

The mobile technology is undoubtedly a plus. While decidedly out front in many of its capabilities, Barry compared it to a mountain ascent where one never reaches the top, requiring continual reinvention and, therefore, reinvestment.

Another plus? The boutique niche of the firm.

“If you want more handholding and touch points as well as someone who really knows your business, we’re the firm for you,” Pace added, conceding it may cost more than its larger competitors, but countered with claims of better service and no consumer brand with which its advisors are forced to compete.

“I recently received a call from an office manager telling me I had to fly out to this particular RIA,” Barry interjected. “I asked her why and she wouldn’t tell me. So I got on the plane and flew there and she brought both of the advisor partners in and said to each of them, ‘Either you resolve your differences, or I’m leaving.’ So I spent the whole day as an outside, impartial party as we talked not about business, or investments or practice management, but about their interpersonal issues.”

A bit touchy-feely? Yes, but the RIAs know it’s genuine. Together with increased efficiency, a high level of service, energy and openness, it’s responsible for a recent spate of good news; namely, the company experienced its best performance ever in the third quarter of 2013. Total assets under custody grew to a record $12.4 billion, which outpaced its previous best in the quarter before, one in which the company rebranded and announced strategic partnerships with RIA in a Box and United Planners Financial Services.

During the past three months, TCA brought on six new RIAs which the company claims collectively represent approximately $250 million in AUM.

Among other highlights from the third quarter:

• Additions to senior leadership and sales teams. Kathleen Brenk joined TCA as vice president of people and culture (its’ a Barry thing). Sue Summers was hired as regional vice president to lead sales efforts in “the Heartland.”

• Key enhancements to its technology platforms, including TCAdvisor, its model-based trading program, as well as Liberty.

• The RIA Roadshow. TCA is participating in this inaugural education series, which hosted half-day events in six cities across the country in September and October.

Whether or not the new direction and initiative will stick remains to be seen, but so far it’s all pointing (energetically) in the right direction.

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Check out Building Trust With Tech on ThinkAdvisor.

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