Norlyn Poto (left), senior vice president and marketing director at Cadaret, Grant & Co., will be retiring in mid-March. We talked with her about her years in the business, some of the changes she’s seen, what she’d like to change and what advice she has for advisors.

Q: What was business like in the early days of your career?

A: When I started, wirehouses weren’t even playing in this space [of independent firms] and the big fight was load vs. no load. As the world turned, the old terminology has gone away, and now, [instead of talking about loads,] it’s “how we get compensated.”

Regulators have put in their say, and I think it’s really changed the industry. The mutual fund [commission] rate was 8.5% … and we thought that was fine. I was around when we did contractual plans; that was way back, too. Commissions are now down to 1.5%, 3%.

In the ’70s and ’80s, people didn’t know they needed advice, and didn’t know they had to save for the future. Investing was terminology that was foreign to most. Then the mutual fund industry and wirehouses [got the word out,] and everybody [thought they were] investment professionals; you’d get in a cab and the cabbie would talk about [how much he made on] the Putnam Voyager Fund. The public thought they were experts. But in the last three years, everyone realizes they need advice again.

It’s been a roller coaster. How we’ve gotten paid has gone down, but people’s feeling of whether they need advice has gone down and up and now is definitely on the upturn. People understand that they need somebody [to direct them].

Q: What about at Cadaret, Grant? What’s changed there?

A: We’ve grown, but stayed with our core values; we’re a family-oriented company. When an advisor takes a look at how we are, they come, and they stay. [I’ve been asked about our turnover rate; I tell people] zero would be a good number. It’s very low.

I was with BNL Securities when we merged with Cadaret, so I’ve been in the same place for 30 years. … We know [our advisors,] we know their families, share in their celebrations. When sadness happens we’re there for them. We’ve grown well. During the last three years, we didn’t lay anyone off: no cutbacks. That was our mission.

Technology [has changed]; technology’s been terrific. The advisor who embraces technology can spend more time in front of their clients, and face time is critical. Let someone else enter all the information into the computers. Client relationship management software is critical to a successful advisor’s practice. They need to be able to segment business, and [they need] a good support staff to nurture their client base. That used to be a very manual, tedious process; now it’s very efficient with technology and a good support team.

Q: What would you like to change?

A: Financial literacy for children. They start too late. I would like to spearhead something about children, getting education into the classroom about investing. That has been my dream.

Q: Could you talk about some of your mentors?

A: I’ve been very, very fortunate to have come into the industry in the late seventies, and I have a wall of amazing pictures and memories of some of our industry’s greatest leaders. John Templeton was my mentor early on; so was Don Spiro, chairman and president of Oppenheimer Funds. [I met him] in 1979, and met Templeton the same year. Bill Strott from Merrill Lynch—some of the great people in our industry were very helpful, and gave me a lot of guidance when I was young. People were very supportive. Ron Lynch of Lord, Abbett, Steve Arpante, president of Keystone Funds. I feel that I had great mentors, and people who were my peers are now heading up some of the largest companies, [like] Kevin Clifford, president of American Funds.

Q: What advice would you give advisors?

A: Nurture your clients, and they will refer you, and you will grow your business.

Set your goals. I think too many financial advisors don’t write them down. Set goals, and a target, and if you write them down you’ll hit it. Planning is critical.

Too many financial advisors are not necessarily businessmen and -women. The most successful understand they need a good support team. Make sure you have that, because the most important thing is [that clients] need your advice. It’s critical as more and more Americans are retiring.