Nicole Spinelli speaks at the 2014 Raymond James Women’s Symposium

Raymond James (RJF) kicked off its 20th annual Women’s Symposium on Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Florida, celebrating with a record crowd of nearly 500 female advisors, prospective advisors, staff and educational partners. It also shared plans for several technology updates with the attending reps.

“This is the biggest symposium ever, as it should be,” said Sacha Millstone, an employee advisor with Raymond James in Boulder, Colorado, during the event’s opening session.

During the recent recession, “When we could capitalize on a great opportunity in the industry, Tom James announced the firm’s succession plans, and then CEO Paul Reilly challenged us to think very big … and make Raymond James the firm of choice for female advisors,” Millstone explained. “We are now acknowledged as the leading firm for women advisors in the industry.”

With the Raymond James Network for Women Advisors, directed by Nicole Spinelli, the firm is focused on “retaining female reps and applying skills development to foster our businesses,” the advisor noted. “Non-Raymond James female advisors know what we have to offer and that we would love to have them here.”

In fact, the number of prospects attending the symposium stands at 29 this week, up from seven in 2010. “The number of groups calling us” continues to rise, said Millstone.

In addition, close to 90 female advisors have participated in a group-coaching program, which has boosted their growth in assets under management by as much as 36% more than their peers, she adds. Plus, a one-on-one coaching program has helped more than 25 women reps grow assets by as much as 66% more than their uncoached counterparts. 

A recently established program to support branch-offices staff who are not yet advisors includes 10 women, three of whom have since become FAs. The next group participating in the career-development program will number 20.

“Twenty years ago, the firm recognized it was necessary for women advisors to get together and share breakthrough experiences and moments,” said Spinelli. “That legacy continues and is growing thanks to our exceptional executive leadership.”

Female Friendly

Advisor Judith McGee, CEO and chair of McGee Wealth Management in Portland, Oregon, spoke about how women are increasingly “using their pocketbook” to change their lives and have an impact on their communities. “Women are increasingly funding philanthropy, and over the next decade are likely to control some two-thirds of consumer wealth,” McGee said.

Other statistics are equally impressive, she says. “Women over 50 control net worth of some $19 trillion. Wow!”

For advisors, this represents an important area of business growth. “Nineteen trillion dollars means influence. Women own it, but do not yet [fully] control it,” explained McGee, “so there’s lots of opportunity there.”

To help women, especially those in transition after the loss of a spouse or the arrival of their inheritance, advisors must be “trained and skilled to manage change,” said Susan Bradley, founder of the Sudden Money Institute.

“Advisors need to ask how their clients want to receive information and recommendations and how an advisor can best support them when there are decisions to be made,” Bradley explained. “Do advisors need to use graphics in their presentations or slow down the pace of communications?”

These steps are “a good start,” she advised. “Don’t be a mind reader. Ask!”   

Technology Updates

Later at the event, Raymond James told its female advisors about the rollout of improvements to its client-reporting tools, collectively known as Client Center. “It’s a big release,” said Chief Information Officer Vincent Campagnoli, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

“It will create significant time savings for advisors” in terms of their preparations time for client meetings, as well as scheduling work, Campagnoli explained. “We are always working to give time back to advisors. This will do so.”

The firm also plans to give advisors a more “consolidated dashboard of information” on its Practice Center. “This should really help them with drilling down,” the IT executive said.

To get these projects aligned with advisor priorities—and attitudes—the IT group works with group of 16 reps. “We don’t do anything before they’re involved,” Campagnoli said, “and we get their input for the final version. That way, we feel like we have it nailed.”

There are also different groups of advisors supporting the IT team on specific IT projects, like client reporting. “They’ll come in to kick the tires,” he said. These working and advisory groups include women, and “I have my own private group of ladies on the Chairman’s Council, too, for feedback,” explained Bella Allaire, executive vice president of technology and operations, in an interview.

As for cybersecurity attacks (like those most recently affecting JPMorgan and Home Depot), “We are very good at sharing. We get [news of] these attacks within minutes, and then we check the perimeter and take action,” said Allaire.

In cases where the news isn’t received “fast enough,” Raymond James “has systems looking into this proactively,” she added.

These security issues represent an increasing amount of Raymond James’ IT budget, with spending on such tasks projected to be up about a third between 2013 and 2015, which is consistent with other industry players, she notes.

The company’s annual budget for information technology tops $200 million.

Another IT project set for completion by Dec. 31 is data consolidation. The firm aims to better bring together information on client holdings and transactions, for instance, so “we can mine it for analytics—pull out the data and drive intelligence around it,” Allaire said.

That means being able to make correlations about certain client assets, for instance, so that reports can be sent out about a certain industry sector or asset class and movement in prices. Advisors could then be prompted by the release of such a report to contact clients with suggestions.