“Starting with the fact that we can’t control things like the market and economy or regulation, I’m wildly optimistic about our industry,” Amy Webber, president of Cambridge Investment Research, began our interview. “I just believe that the independent model is extremely resilient. Whatever those things deliver us, as well as the future, we as a whole will adapt.”
With that “the future is bright” spirit, Webber and her team at Cambridge are focusing on what it can do today to strengthen the industry in the future. The firm has continued to build its infrastructure to support the next generation of advisors, including the Synergy Exchange mentoring program that “just celebrated its first anniversary.”
“We started Synergy Exchange a year ago in the female advisor space,” Webber explained, “but have recently expanded it because we realized we could replicate the need for mentoring to the next generation as a whole.”
Furthermore, discussions with advisors who were concerned about losing clients and assets in the wealth transfer that’s “coming in the next five to 10, 15 years” led to a reverse mentoring program where established advisors are counseled by a younger or female advisor.
“We have many advisors that we’ve talked to, that have been in the advisory business 20-plus years, who are interested in exploring whether or not some reverse mentoring or being mentored to some extent by a female makes sense, given their better view into the psychology of the investors that they should be thinking about,” Webber said.
That reverse mentoring program is brand-new, Webber said in our April interview: “We’ve expanded it within the last 90 days or so. We have a lot of enthusiasm around those advisors who realize that while it isn’t going to happen tomorrow, they do need to start planning.”
Unless, of course, they’re planning on selling their practice soon. “If they’re in a phase of succession planning where they’re getting out in the next, say, one to three or four years, then it’s probably someone else’s challenge to figure out how to make the business survive,” Webber said. However, “In most cases, independent advisors plan on working until they can’t,” she added, so the new program has been met with “a lot of enthusiasm.”
While the reverse mentoring program is brand-new, Cambridge’s focus on the next generation of advisors isn’t. “We’ve done a really good job over the last five years of getting the 60-something advisor to recognize that they need a 40-something advisor,” Webber said. “Now we need to get those 60- and 40-somethings to realize that they can get value out of the 20-something.”
Cambridge has worked hard to give those 20-somethings a platform, too. “Last year, we had 20 students from Arizona State University come to our national conference, and we introduced them to our advisors who were interested in having interns,” Webber explained. “This year we’re in Chicago, and the target is to have 40 to 50 students from the Chicago area who are interested in financial services or financial planning.”
Those students will attend Cambridge’s national conference for half a day, then the firm will set up interviews with advisors who are interested in having interns.
Also helping shape Cambridge’s view of the future is the New Century Council, an advisory council of advisors in their mid-40s who consult on “what the broker-dealer partner of the future needs to look like so that they can serve the next-gen investor.”
“What we’re spending our time on over the last 12 to 18 months with that group is [discussing what] the unique business models” that will exist in the near future will look like. “How do we as a service provider build service models and technology, the infrastructure basically, to customize our service model around their business model?” Webber said.
One answer to that question is WealthPort, a “huge project” Cambridge undertook last year to “build a technology and service platform for our managed account solutions.” With WealthPort, advisors will have an integrated system of tools to help them serve their clients, “from the very beginning where a proposal is being generated to performance reporting and everything in between,” Webber said. “It will serve the rep-as-portfolio-manager concept, but it will also serve the advisor who we believe will continue to grow who are choosing to use a third-party platform.”
Webber recently joined the board of directors at the Financial Services Institute and said she’s “very enthusiastic about giving back to our industry through that venue because I do believe that FSI is a huge advocate for the independent model.”
She’s currently preparing for an FSI event that will put broker-dealer executives and representatives in front of regulators on Capitol Hill, and Cambridge is “subsidizing some costs so that I can take between seven and 10 of our top-producing advisors to Capitol Hill with me,” Webber said. “It is highly critical that we get our advisors in the independent space in front of legislators and regulators. FSI and the broker-dealers can continue to do a great job of advocating for them, but there’s nothing more powerful than putting one of our Cambridge advisors, who are solely out there—just like the regulators want them to be—to protect and serve the end client, in front of them.”
(Check out Investment Advisor’s full IA 25 for 2014 list on ThinkAdvisor.)