Chances are good that Joe Deitch is the only chairman of an independent broker-dealer that can claim a Tony Award for his work as a Broadway producer (for “The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess” in 2012).
Commonwealth Financial Network, the independent BD founded by Deitch in 1979 out of his retail advisory firm, is used to getting other kinds of awards—through 2014, Commonwealth marked its seventh straight year as one of the best places to work (from The Boston Globe for its Waltham, Massachusetts headquarters) and was on the San Diego Business Journal‘s best places to work list for six years, in addition to multiple honors from the likes of Computerworld and J.D. Power. Oh, and it’s won Broker-Dealer of the Year honors from this magazine 10 times.
But the most unique part of Commonwealth isn’t its numbers or accolades, but its culture. Deitch and his long-time partners, including CEO Wayne Bloom, act like a functional family: firmly committed to a common goal, wary of outsiders (such as might be the case if they acquired another BD and its problematic reps), fond of pushing each other’s buttons in an affectionate way and committed to each other—not just the partners, but all the employees and, by extension, the reps who throw in their lot with Commonwealth.
You can clearly hear Boston in Deitch’s speech—he was born and raised there, was educated at the Boston Latin School (where he has since funded a leadership program at the nation’s oldest public school) and the University of Pennsylvania before completing a management program at Harvard Business School. But moss doesn’t grow on Deitch—his interests and passions are many and he’s an intrepid traveler. While he handed over the CEO role to Bloom in 2009, he remains deeply involved at Commonwealth. “I continue to derive enormous pleasure and satisfaction from both the people and the projects that we work with,” Deitch said in an email. “My own role is primarily strategic, [but] our entire senior management team, myself included, meets together every week to discuss issues and opportunities.
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In a separate email exchange, Deitch answered the following questions.
Jamie Green: If you looked back over your career, what are the big changes you’ve seen in terms of delivering financial advice; looking ahead, how do you think advice delivery will change?
Joe Deitch: Technology is the one big game-changer that affects all of us on every level. But aside from being able to do so much more – better, faster, cheaper – there’s a certain level of analysis and service that wasn’t possible before. And it’s only going to accelerate.
There is also a new level of competition that technology has enabled, which is challenging everything as well as creating new pathways, pricing and possibilities. On the one hand, tech has enabled us to become so much bigger and better; but it has also raised the bar on expectations and choices.
So far these changes have benefited advisors and investors alike. Some people see us at a tipping point today where automated solutions (e.g., “robo-advisors”) will replace people. In a sense, that’s the history of the industrialized world; however, up until now the standard of living has lifted us all. My own belief is that man and machine will continue to merge and improve […] and that will usher in a brave new world. The big variable is whether people will embrace, ignore or reject this evolving reality.
At Commonwealth, we simply try to make intelligent decisions. And while we have always embraced technology and invested the required resources to take full advantage of our opportunities, we also understand that our results are only as good as our people. That is one thing that has not changed. It’s the people who choose the goals, chart the course and execute accordingly. So far so good!
Green: The Commonwealth culture is admired throughout the industry. What was the genesis of this unique culture, and how do you keep it alive?
Deitch: Well, you know the firm pretty well, and you know that we’re a bit utopian in terms of having high expectations. But why would anyone want anything less?!
Commonwealth is the foundation from which our professional and personal lives grow and prosper. It’s both our business and our home. We all spend much more time at work than anything else in our waking lives, so if we’re not trying to make it wonderful, then we’re missing the point!