Tom Nally had a tough act to follow at TD Ameritrade Institutional, but a year after Nally assumed the presidency of TDAI, he is exhibiting leadership that both embraces continuity at the custodian while placing his own stamp on the organization. That leadership is perhaps most clearly seen in the team approach to fulfilling TDAI’s strategy of growing assets by serving advisors, with support from the top in the enhanced presence at TDAI events of TD Ameritrade’s President and CEO Fred Tomczyk, and the emergence of Skip Schweiss and the recently hired Jim Dario as key members of Nally’s team.
In a series of in-person and telephone interviews with Nally, Schweiss and Dario, continuity and new purpose were on clear display. They were in evidence as well at TDAI’s national conference in San Diego as the calendar moved from January to February, where in a Q&A session following comments by Tomczyk, Nally, Tom Bradley (Nally’s high-profile predecessor and mentor who now runs TD Ameritrade’s retail business) and Marvin Adams, COO of TD Ameritrade, two attendees got to the heart of advisors’ relationships with their custodians. One advisor asked if TD could cut its costs to advisors. A second advisor asked about competition for clients between TDAI RIAs and TD’s retail branches.
These pointed questions have become a hallmark of the TDAI conference: The executives share their vision and strategy in the advisor space while the advisors share their bottom- and top-line concerns, simultaneously asking for help in running more profitable businesses while seeking reassurance that their custodial partner isn’t competing with them.
The answers from the executives were direct and clear. TDAI’s open-architecture Veo technology platform ensures that advisors can run more profitable businesses, Nally responded, while Bradley stressed that compensation for all TD Ameritrade employees, in both the retail and advisor channels, is based on growing assets for the overall company and scoring well on customer service.
In the retail branches, a client with more than $500,000 in investable assets is routinely referred to TDAI RIAs, said Bradley, but that’s not a strict line; the complexity of a client’s financial life may well lead a retail branch to refer investors to an RIA even if they don’t meet that minimum.
“In our organization,” said Nally (left) in an interview following the national conference, “every person is compensated based on net new assets and our CSI client satisfaction index, so there’s a financial incentive” to all TD Ameritrade staffers to grow assets regardless of the channel. “We’re here to serve advisors,” Nally stressed, so “if we deliver to advisors, ultimately we’re all more successful.”
Human Capital, for TDAI and Advisors
Nally and TD put their human capital money where their mouths are. “For us, and for me personally, our associates are our most valuable resource,” Nally said. “We’re fortunate to have a great culture—that’s not an accident.” Nally stressed that an authentic service culture “can’t be a façade.” His approach to team building? “Treat [associates] with dignity and respect” and make clear to them “how valuable they are to the organization, so the client can feel that.”
From a leadership perspective, Nally said, “it doesn’t just happen” that you get the right people in your organization. “You have to be thoughtful around the decisions you make and the people you hire.” Yes, the company has “quant goals” for its associates, but achieving those goals can’t be done, he said, “by any means necessary.” Rather, his approach is to “aggressively make sure that people buy into our way of doing things.” TDAI’s team approach is “a central part of the culture—everything we do overlaps,” so “if Jim [Dario] does something, there will be a downstream effect on Kate Healy in marketing, on Kristen Petrick in public relations.”
As a case in point, he presented the aforementioned Dario, who was hired away from Pershing Advisor Solutions last September. “I was looking for two things” in that high-profile hiring, Nally said. “He knew the RIA business cold—he has 20-plus years experience—but he’s also a good leader and a good guy who could fit right into the culture.”
So was fielding those pointed questions from advisors at the national conference uncomfortable? “Transparency is an important thing because it keeps everybody accountable. We have nothing to hide,” Nally said. TDAI’s goals? “We’re trying to further the industry, grow the RIA space, increase the visibility of the model and help advisors grow. There’s no benefit to hiding behind walls; we spend an enormous amount of time listening” to what RIAs want, including conducting multiple advisory boards. One such board includes principals of firms, where in day-and-a-half meetings, “we ask if they’re seeing the same trends we are” and specifically ask those advisors about “the hot-button issues that they’re facing.”
One example of listening to advisors, Nally said, is the Veo platform’s open access approach to technology. “When we first went down this integration path, we wondered, ‘Should we pick one partner or multiple? Advisors told us that even if you build [one application], we won’t switch.”
Summing up TDAI’s internal human capital approach, Nally said, “We don’t have a lot of egos in our organization; there’s not a lot of hubris.”