Raymond James hosted its 20th annual Women’s Symposium in October 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, at 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 should 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.”

Pocketbook Power

Sallie Krawcheck received a warm reception at the Women’s Symposium and then shared her views on how to best support and influence female investors.

Women control about $20 trillion in investment dollars and represent some 9% of the world’s billionaires, she shared. They also are expected to inherit 70% of $41 trillion in intergenerational wealth globally over the next 40 years.

“Give clients the opportunity to ask questions, focus on risk management or downside risk,” Krawcheck said. “Men see money as a river, while women see it as a pond. They think this is all they have, and most fear they could become a bag lady. Be more holistic, a concept I came to accept super late in my career.”

Some 90% of women, studies show, are interested in investing that has a social impact. “If you had talked to me about this at Merrill Lynch, I would have said, ‘Get out of my office,’” she joked. “Women say they are goals-based and invest in their values. They don’t just want to make money now and give it away later.”

With research showing that 60% of women globally want to invest in companies with greater gender diversity at the top, Pax Ellevate has responded by launching the Global Women’s Index Fund. It slices and dices members of the MSCI World Index members, investing in firms with a high percentage of women on their corporate boards and senior management.

Financial-services firms have room for improvement, when it comes to their female leadership and, hence, their ability to be included in the Global Women’s Index Fund, according to Pax Ellevate.

Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly acknowledged as much in an interview. “Our progress at the firm has been good,” Reilly said, “but we know it’s not enough. Bella Allaire is on the executive team, and she is tremendously influential and extremely well respected.”

The firm has two women on its board, he adds, American Water CEO Susan Story and Shelley Broader, CEO of Walmart’s operations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Canada.

In the Private Client Group, over half of the regional directors are women, according to Reilly. “That is working well, though we’ve got more work to do.”

Addressing Krawcheck’s challenge for the industry not to view female clients as a “niche,” the CEO says Raymond James’ take is that women represent “an underserved segment.”

“The aggregate numbers indisputably demonstrate what an opportunity serving women [with financial services] is,” Krawcheck explained, in an interview. “And if we were doing everything right today, it would not be an opportunity but an [existing] business.”

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, at the event.

“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

At the conference, Raymond James told its female advisors about 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.

“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.

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

Employee Channel

Before the Women’s Symposium, Raymond James restructured its employee-channel operations and made several appointments. The head of the Raymond James & Associates’ Great Lakes region, Bill Roney, will retire in December and be replaced by Dominic Prioli. In addition, the Great Lakes region is set to become part of the Midwestern division, which is led by John Kuklenski.

“Consistent with our firm’s emphasis on planning for thoughtful and smooth successions, I am pleased, yet saddened, to announce that …Roney will be retiring at the end of the calendar year,” said Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates Private Client Group, in a statement. “With more than 40 years in the business, Bill has been a strong leader for his division and a cultural stalwart for the firm.”

Other changes include the following: Oregon and Washington will become part of the Western division, which includes 11 states and is led by Patrick Allison, along with Regional Director Tommy Orr; the firm expects to tap a regional director in California over the next few months.

The Southern Division will continue to be led by Dick Ferguson; the group co-head Bill Geary will return to production and lead the Jackson, Mississippi, complex; Jim Hamilton, Van Thompson and Michael Turnbough will remain regional directors of the division.

Within the Eastern division, which is headed by Ira Federer, the Coastal region will be expanded to include western Florida and will be led by Regional Director Patrick O’Connor, who most recently was in charge of the firm’s Wealth, Retirement & Portfolio solutions group; Tom Galvin will lead the North Atlantic region.

“These changes are in keeping with our efforts to ‘stay small while growing bigger,’ as we focus on being the premier alternative to Wall Street,” ’” explained Elwyn.

RIA Momentum

Raymond James says it is seeing continued growth in its RIA custody unit, the Investment Advisors Division, and during its recent IAD annual conference (held just before the Women’s Symposium) announced two big enhancements to its RIA offerings: Hearsay Social’s social-media platform and 120 no-transaction-fee ETFs.

Bill Van Law, president of the IAD, said that in the quarter ended Sept. 30, the unit attracted three RIA firms with more than $500 million in client assets, giving it a total of about 110 RIA firms and $10 billion in custodied assets.

Speaking at the IAD’s recent three-day national conference in St. Pete Beach, Florida, which drew 120 advisors and 38 prospective clients, Van Law said the growth numbers are “very representative of our momentum since the relaunch of the channel last September.” Van Law said that attendance at the conference rose about 40% from last year, while the number of prospects “is up significantly from eight prospective advisors a year ago.”

The Raymond James executive anticipates that three more RIAs could affiliate with the channel this quarter and that the next six months or so should bring “a significant increase” in affiliation. In the past nine months, he says, more than 100 advisors have visited the firm to discuss affiliation.

Those considering joining IAD constitute a mix of advisors at wirehouse firms, independent contractor groups “looking to take the next step toward the RIA platform” and “some wanting to leave their existing RIA” custodian, according to Van Law. “We expected strong interest from the wirehouse advisors, but the number of advisors visiting from existing RIAs—about half—is really a nice, positive surprise. It reinforces how our value proposition is resonating in the marketplace.”

Latest Developments

Raymond James-affiliated RIAs are set to have access to Hearsay Social’s social-media platform and a library of pre-approved content. They also can use their own content in conjunction with Hearsay Social’s compliance and archiving tool.

Its affiliated RIAs will also have access to 120 ETFs without transaction fees, including funds from First Trust, ALPS Advisors, AdvisorShares and Greenhaven, by Nov. 1. In addition, RIAs can take advantage of additional enhancements to the firm’s platform, including its five-member succession planning and acquisition team.

Van Law says the channel recently tapped Lauren Ahern as its assistant regional director for the Northeast. Ahern will support existing affiliated RIAs while also recruiting new ones. “We’ve been building momentum, and now I can focus more on those advisors visiting the home office and attending our due diligence events, which we do three times a year—two on the West Coast and one on the East Coast,” he explained.

The unit can compete with larger custodial firms “not by emulating what they do but by drawing on Raymond James’ strengths and by creating a unique offering that addresses what [RIAs] are looking for,” Van Law said.

Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly, who spoke at this week’s conference, “is exceedingly upbeat about the relaunch of the business and about the quality and caliber of the advisors he is meeting,” said Van Law. “We expect to make more announcements about new affiliated RIAs and platform initiatives in the near future.”

In a separate, prior interview, Van Law said that “one of the biggest benefits we bring is being a strategic partner” to RIAs that are interested in growing their firms. Custodying with Raymond James gives RIAs access to “our comprehensive platform,” which is the same platform used by Raymond James’ employee and independent contractor advisors.