(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.