Amy Webber started in the independent broker-dealer space when she was 18 years old.
“I had graduated from high school in a small town and the college that I attended had a work-study program. I ended up being placed in a very small broker-dealer in Wisconsin,” the now-CEO and president of Cambridge Investment Research said.
A month later in October 1987 the stock market crashed.
“I realized, even as an 18-year-old who knew nothing about nothing, that this business was not math and accounting,” Webber said. “It was about people and relationships and helping people. That was really what inspired me to fall in love with the industry way back then.”
She credits, in part, her early start in the industry as a reason for her passion to support the next generation of independent advisors.
“If I could bottle up the passion, the opportunities and everything that I’ve experienced and enjoyed personally over the last 25 or 30 years, we could have a lot more young people who want careers in this industry,” she said.
Drafting a Successful Succession Plan
Webber joined Cambridge in 1998 and has been president of the Fairfield, Iowa-based firm for a decade. In January, the independent broker-dealer announced that Webber would take over as CEO from chairman and then-CEO Eric Schwartz, who founded Cambridge 35 years ago and led the IBD world’s entry into fee-based compensation.
Cambridge has more than 3,000 independent registered representatives and nearly $80 billion assets under management.
Schwartz and Webber had been planning his succession for some years, so Webber’s move into the CEO role was just another day.
“In reality, I have probably been doing the job for 10 years,” she said.
Webber’s self-described personality is “to jump in and do what I love,” which she said often led to Schwartz empowering her along the way.
“The biggest difference that it’s really made for me is that Eric had reached a place in his life where he was confident and comfortable taking the next step in our plan,” Webber said. “There was no set date that it had to happen. We worked together and we still work together. We’re a good team.”
Beyond Schwartz and Webber’s succession plan, Cambridge has been focused on formal succession planning within the firm for more than 10 years. And, Webber’s personal interest lies with continually refining the independent broker-dealer model to best support the next generation of independent advisors.
The average age of Cambridge’s advisor is 52, which is similar to the industry as a whole.
“With that lens, we look very similar to everyone else,” Webber said. “But I think the unique part for us is we have 20% of our advisors that are under the age of 35. Now that’s not a huge number by itself, … but for the industry, [it’s a] big number.”
According to Webber, Cambridge’s number of younger advisors is perhaps larger than others because the firm chooses not to focus on keeping the average production per advisor at a higher rate, which many firms put a “giant focus” on, she said.
“What that leads to in our industry is that production success overall tends to go up as you become more experienced in the industry,” she said. “You’re not going to find very many 28-year-olds or 32-year-olds that have $400,000 average compensation because this business is built differently.”
Cambridge decided to sacrifice how its production per advisor might look and instead focused on building its next generation of advisors.
Cambridge’s average production per advisor today is somewhere around $235,000, whereas some of its competitors are $400,000 or $500,000, according to Webber.
“A prospective recruit could say, ‘Well, Cambridge must be doing something wrong. They’ve got a lot of small producers,’” Webber said. “We accepted that because we are in it for the long haul. We do embrace the next generation, and that means that you have to build these succession plans or strategies in such a way that they can bring people in that aren’t doing anything, that is $0,” Webber said.
— Read Frontrunners: The 2017 IA 25 on ThinkAdvisor.