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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Portrait of a Branch Manager

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Anthony Arico is the manager of Wells Fargo Advisors’ Madison Avenue branch in New York City, located in a tony midtown Manhattan neighborhood marked by soaring skyscrapers, posh hotels and the whiff of money.

Against this showy backdrop, the unpretentious Arico runs a small office that is decidedly free of pomp and starchiness. Amiable and candid, the manager lives to service the 37 financial advisors who report to him.

“We’ve got a pretty low-ego operation. The key is to remain humble. I always try to live by that,” says the manager, 45.

But when prompted, he isn’t shy about noting some of his top accomplishments.

“We haven’t lost any financial advisors to the competition in four years. The last one came back because he didn’t like it at UBS. I felt really good about that,” he says.

Arico’s biggest achievement centers indeed on his outstanding record of advisor retention and expansion even in the face of longtime FAs’ retirement.

 New York-born, Oklahoma-bred, Arico has managed the branch at Madison and East 54th Street for seven years. He has been with Wells Fargo and its predecessors—he started out with Prudential Bache Securities—for his entire 24-year career. Now a senior vice president of the nation’s third largest brokerage, with 15,300 advisors, Arico began as a Pru cold-calling summer college intern.

Though he never opted to join the advisor corps, he deeply understands FA needs.

“My advisors are my lifeblood,” he says. “I tend to get very involved and granular with their problems when it comes to the nitty-gritty of their business,” he says.

His branch manages some $4.5 billion in client assets, and last year’s revenue totaled approximately $33 million. About 35% of the advisors are fee-based; branch-wide, a third of the practices are structured as teams. With their older, fairly affluent Upper East Side Manhattan client base, the FAs conduct a substantial amount of fixed-income investing.

Arico’s chief goal for this year is to grow revenue 8.5% and increase the branch’s already healthy liability management business.

“We’re [concentrating] on putting incentives around [adding] more mass affluent households, and other new assets. The easiest way to do that,” he says, “is through recruiting.”

It is an aggressive effort. In seven years, Arico has been responsible for bringing in about $19 million in new production.

“Anthony runs a friendly, high-morale branch. He’s a hands-on manager who’s focused on and very attentive to the needs of his advisors,” says recruiter Mark Elzweig, president of Mark Elzweig Company, executive search consultants in New York City.

Arico came to Madison Avenue not long after managing a suburban Boston and Manchester, N.H., complex, a position he snagged just six months after relocating to Boston from New York to begin branch management apprenticeship.

Before that, he had been asked repeatedly to go the branch manager route. He found the notion appealing; but having worked his way to overseeing strategic financial business operations for all branches east of the Mississippi, Arico felt happy enough to stay put.

Then came 9/11. That morning during a meeting, he happened to glance out a window of his top-floor office close to the World Trade Center. What he saw was the first plane slamming into the North Tower. Horrified, he watched people jump to their deaths from the burning building.

He ducked under his desk. As the first tower came down, severe air pressure caused what he felt as a powerful whack.

 “We’ve got to get out of here!” he told colleagues. “We put handkerchiefs over our faces and took off. We got as far uptown as Chinatown when the second tower went down,” Arico recalls, painfully.

The terrorist attacks transformed his attitude about how he would approach the remainder of his years.

“I realized that life is short and your career even shorter. I felt pretty strongly about doing some of the things that I thought I’d be good at and would find fulfilling—so I decided to go into branch management,” he says.

The main value Arico brings to advisors, he believes, is helping them with their process and leading them through tough times.

“Not every day is peaches and cream—that’s not life,” he notes.

Philosophically and literally, Arico maintains an open-door policy. A favorite time for FAs to stroll in for one-on-one chats is 5:00 p.m. or 6:00 p.m.

“They like to talk to me at the end of the day. And that’s where you build relationships,” the manager says.

When it comes to recruiting, Arico’s high ethical standards take precedence.

“It’s more than just revenue and assets. I’ve probably passed on as much production revenue as I’ve [brought in]. Everyone would like a recruit who produces $750,000 to $1 million with a nice asset base and a fair amount of managed money. But to me, what’s key is how an advisor manages their practice and if they’re good people with a high moral compass. So,” he says, “you look somebody in the eye and ask a lot of questions. It’s part art, part science.”

Diversity is top-of-mind. Arico bemoans the fact that there are simply too few female FAs.

“Statistically, women are strong advisors, but there just aren’t a lot of them in the industry yet,” he says. “We need to get more.” (Females total 12%, according to Tom Daley, recruiting specialist, who is profiled in this issue.)

Most of Arico’s new hires come via recruiters; referrals play a big, though secondary, role. He also does a little warm calling. The manager hires few trainees because of scant space in his 16th-floor 15,500 square-foot office—hiring newbies simply isn’t profitable.

“My rent is in excess of $100 a square foot. So I need [people] that are actually generating revenue,” he says. “When I hire a trainee, it’s generally because an advisor wants one on their team. Today, if a trainee isn’t on a team when they first come into the business, it’s very, very difficult to succeed.”

With the premium on space, taking on a new FA sometimes means transferring an existing one to a different Manhattan office.

“We have a good relationship across all the branches in the city,”Arico says. “Everyone wants everyone else to do well—so we always try to help one another.”

A native of Farmingdale, Long Island, Arico grew up in Oklahoma City. His father was principal of his grade school; his mother, his high school guidance counselor.

“I love them to death, but I went to college about 2,000 miles away in New York,” he says, with a laugh.

At Fordham University in the Bronx, he studied finance and became class president, then president of the college’s full student body. As a member of the school’s Breakfast Club—which he and the then-dean founded—Arico visited with a variety of corporate executives.

“It really fascinated me. I got very interested in the whole [business] culture,” he recalls.

By the summer following the 1987 market crash, Arico was a cold-calling intern at Prudential Bache. He distinctly recalls that he enjoyed it. Upon graduating from Fordham with a bachelor’s degree in finance, he joined Prudential’s two-year management training program. In 1997, he was appointed business officer for the firm’s northern and eastern division.

Two years after 9/11, he launched his branch management career, relocating to Boston as a sales manager. Only six months later, he was running a complex of his own. Next, he accepted an offer to become productivity/sales manager for all offices in New York City. But he was quickly given a branch to manage, and then another.

In the spring of 2006, he was promoted to run what had become Wachovia Securities’ Madison Avenue branch.

The unassuming Arico immediately turned over his big corner office to advisors.

“They’re the guys who bring in the revenue; so they deserve it. That also gave me the opportunity to show that I can sit in a small office and do my job just fine,” says Arico, who still occupies a compact interior space. “The message is: the four walls aren’t what’s important—it’s what you do inside those walls. I’ve had very high-end producers that will sit anywhere for me.”

Two years after he took over Madison Avenue, the financial crisis hit.

“I never really believed that Wachovia was at the level of risk that it was. But then it became apparent. We went around making sure clients had their accounts positioned within FDIC guidelines. We went account by account to be certain they were sufficiently covered,” says Arico, adding that neither money nor clients were lost.

Then, in a federally mandated sale, Wells Fargo ­acquired Wachovia.

“The Wells Fargo deal was a great, great solution to our problem,” he says. “It’s so reassuring to have that balance sheet. We’re well financed. And the Wells Fargo brand name is incredible.”

A typical workday starts at 4:30 a.m., when Arico heads to the basement of his Fairfield, Connecticut, home to exercise. Arriving at the office at 8:30 a.m., he meets with his on-site management team of assistant manager and licensed administrative manager, then embarks on the first of several walks around the branch. These put him face-to-face with all the FAs, from whom he often learns about pressing issues requiring attention.

Lunch is usually a fast sandwich that he or his assistant picks up from a nearby deli. (The manager’s fave: whole-wheat wrap with grilled cheese, avocado, onion and zesty hot sauce.) Some lunches, however, are recruiting meetings at restaurants; such chats are also held at breakfast, dinner or over an after-work cocktail.

Arico and wife Courtney are the parents of three daughters, ages 14, 11 and 8. In what leisure time he’s able to carve out, the busy manager snowboards, skis and golfs. He’s been game even to try skydiving and is now training for a half-marathon.

Sleep, apparently, is at the bottom of Arico’s agenda, a fact that he underscores by sporting a T-shirt emblazoned: “You can catch up on sleep the first year you’re dead.”

“Life,” he says, “goes by so fast. You need to find fulfillment. The problem is, most people don’t find out what they want to do at work or what they want to do with their lives.”

Happily, branch manager Arico did.


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