Talk about trial by fire; Jeff Auld left Berthel Fisher Financial Services to head what was then AIG Financial Advisors in July 2008. We all know what happened roughly two months later, and any affiliation with AIG was (rightly or wrongly) an affiliation with the ills of capitalism itself.
“Any time news of AIG broke, the local affiliates in Phoenix would all park their satellite trucks in front of our building,” Auld says. “We instituted a pretty comprehensive security system. It was a stressful time.”
Not that he really likes to talk about it, but manage through it he did, and he is now looking to the future of the rebranded and revitalized SagePoint Financial. Auld sat with Investment Advisor for a candid interview about the past, present and (in his mind, most importantly) the future.
Q: You took over at AIG Financial Advisors and almost immediately entered crisis mode. What was the atmosphere like at the time?
A: I became the CEO of this firm in July 2008. I spent the first eight weeks traveling extensively; visiting branch offices, meeting advisors and getting to know my customers. Suddenly, on an early Monday morning, I got an e-mail on my Blackberry alerting me to the AIG problem—completely out of the blue. I remember in June when I was preparing to meet [AIG Advisor Group CEO] Larry Roth to interview for this position. I told my wife AIG was the sixth largest company in the world. Two months later I had to tell her AIG needed only a mere $30 billion (at that time). So it was a dramatic change.
Q: What did you learn from managing the company through that sort of crisis? What are you taking from the crisis?
A: It seemed instinctive. I didn’t sit down one day or consult a textbook or come up with a written plan. Almost immediately I began weekly webcasts with advisors every Friday morning. I answered questions, addressed concerns and responded to rumors, because they were flying all over the place. In hindsight, the frequent and communication with my customers got us through that as well as it did
Q: With where you find yourself now, as a company, what attributes are you looking for in an advisor?
A: I feel like I have a huge sweet spot. On one hand, I have producer groups with multiple OSJs that do $8 million or $10 million dollars in production. Our technology and our supervisory platform allow us the scale and payouts that attract large groups of producers. On the other hand, we’ll permit advisors with as little as $250,000 of production to have the choice to either become an OSJ or be a stand-alone satellite office supervised by our home office. Very few firms of our size give advisors that breadth of choice.
Q: How are you separating yourself on the technology front?
A: We’re piloting a product with our advisors to market their practices with social media. It gives the supervision department the comfort that they can capture everything they need to do the supervision that’s required. One of our enhancements in 2010 was that we rolled out a marketing library. It’s an electronic library that’s available on our website. There are over 3,000 pre-approved marketing pieces and all are filed with FINRA. They are all customizable so when our advisor logs into our website we know who it is. And we’re interfacing the library with this social media product so our advisors can have Facebook pages that can pull in these marketing pieces.
Q: Is that a competitive advantage? Are you the first out of the gate with this?
A: To the best of my knowledge it is.
Q: Do you typically do things on the leading edge?