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UBS Branch Manager: Role Is About 'Community Leadership'

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Lane Strumlauf heads the West Division of UBS Wealth Management Americas, where he runs an 11-market, 68-office territory spread across 13 states. He oversees about 1,400 financial advisors with some $200 billion in client assets and also serves on WMA’s Executive Committee.

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Strumlauf has been in the business for about 25 years. He reflects on what he’s learned and what lies ahead in the following interview.

How did you begin your career in wealth management?

I graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in accounting, and after a few years in that business, I realized that accounting wasn’t for me. I wanted more control over my own destiny and a more direct influence on my compensation.

Working as a financial advisor, I realized that the harder I worked the more control I could have over my income potential. So at the age of 26, I made the switch, and Shearson-Lehman hired me as an entry-level financial advisor in Atlanta.

My start was making cold calls to high-net-worth individuals and selling newly issued preferred stock. It was a great fit and I’ve never looked back.

What have you learned from your supervisors?

Over the years, many different supervisors have taught me a lot. I guess you might say that I’m an optimist and much of that comes from leaders who showed me how to develop and maintain a positive attitude.

I’ve picked up several mottos and mantras along the way. It all starts with “Always do the right thing.” My managers made it clear that putting clients and colleagues first always pays off.

I also learned that as a leader, it’s wise to under promise and over deliver. Too often people in business do the opposite and especially in a relationship business, you can’t get far by disappointing people — clients or colleagues.

I’ve also learned that everything happens for a reason, and things usually work out the way they are supposed to. Often in your career, it doesn’t feel that way in the moment when you are surprised or disappointed, but with time, things can work out.

For me, I’m kind of the poster child for being fortunate in my career in ways that I didn’t always immediately recognize. Most of the career events that I thought were setbacks or didn’t generate the recognition or opportunities when I wanted, turned out to be blessings in disguise. Over and over again, the path that I thought was a diversion or a disappointment led to bigger and better things.

What have the broker-dealers you have worked for taught you that has most influenced your career?

I don’t know that any particular firm taught me more than another. It’s the people you work with that you learn from. But I have seen a lot of change in the industry over the years and a lot of firms have not changed for the better.

When I started with Shearson-Lehman, there was a small feel to the organization. Senior leadership was visible and really involved with advisors in a significant way. They were much closer to the clients.

As different firms merged over the years that feeling went away. The firms got too big and it felt different. Ten years ago when I joined UBS, its small firm feel was really exciting for me.

To be back at a place with a singular wealth management focus and a concentration on the private client, for me it felt right. And UBS has only continued with that emphasis and feel. It was always a relatively flat organization and it has gotten flatter.

Senior leadership has been involved in a real, significant way for the past ten years. That helps good people make good decisions thinking of the client and their advisors first and foremost. It’s why I love working with UBS and why I believe we have a unique advantage. Senior leaders at the firm wake up thinking about wealth management first, which is good for clients and employees.

What is the most significant change you have seen at your firm?

Most significant is how the role of the branch manager has changed. Our branch managers’ roles have become more about being a leader in the communities in which they work and a leader helping advisors do a better job for their clients. Our structural changes in the middle of last year moved empowerment and decision making closer to the advisor, who is closest to the client.

This has been part of a steady evolution, but it really took off when Tom Naratil became president at the beginning of 2016. He has always expressed the vision of “feeling small and playing big,” and we are bringing that vision to life for clients, advisors, support staff and field leadership.

What is the biggest challenge facing you today, and what is the response?

Our business has always benefitted from strong regulation. It’s good because it can help create a better result for clients and makes us better as advisors. But since the financial crisis, the pace of inquiries from regulators and the environment for new regulations has seemed to continue to increase, and even after 10 years it hasn’t abated.

Now, more regulators are involved than ever. With so much regulatory change, it increases the need to educate the client and provide transparency around everything that we do.

A mentor of mine used to say that better than 99.9% of people in our industry are high-quality professionals with nothing but clients’ best interest in mind. But as with any industry or profession, a few bad apples take away the benefit of the doubt from everyone else. Too often regulations are formed with the lowest common denominator as the norm, and that isn’t realistic.

What is the biggest issue confronting the wealth-management field today, and how should it be addressed?

Fiduciary responsibility as it relates to the Department of Labor (DOL) rule is certainly an issue that has created a huge amount of interest. We absolutely feel that first and foremost our FAs have always acted in their clients’ best interest.

But it makes sense to bring clarity to the issue, and UBS is supportive of a single best interest standard not just for retirement accounts but for the industry. Again, to add clarity and accountability, UBS believes the SEC should create that standard and give firms a realistic time frame to implement it.

This is the best way to preserve client choice and provide clarity and consistency. How can we execute on that in this evolving environment? It goes back to one of my mantras. We will continue to do the right thing for our clients and comply with regulations as they are enacted.

What challenges do you face in your career?

I have faced a lot challenges over the course of my career. but the individual ones don’t measure up to the responsibilities of being a good and consistent leader. My biggest challenge as a senior field leader happens every day when I have to make good decisions that successfully balance the interest of clients, employees, shareholders and regulators. It is a complex mix of sometimes competing needs and requirements, but it’s never boring!

Would you like to share anything else?

I guess it goes back to my optimism. This is a great business to be in and the future is bright. What we do as financial advisors — helping clients make some of their most important life choices, realize their dreams and guide their decisions — is always going to be in need.

And the higher that you go up the wealth spectrum, the more people want to interact with a human being to get that advice and personal knowledge. They want an advisor that knows them intimately and can help them grapple with their full financial picture.

No robot or program will ever replace what’s in our heads and our hearts. There will always be a place for the high quality financial advisor.