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Raymond James' Experienced Empathizer

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Shelly Church, CFP, is a senior vice president of investments with the Church & Box Planning Group of Raymond James & Associates in Naples, Florida. She joined Raymond James in 1994 and served on the firm’s Women’s Advisors Council for 12 years.

Church also has been awarded the distinction of a having a seat on the Raymond James Financial Advisors Council and has been recognized with Chairman’s Council honors since 2001. She was named by Raymond James Financial Chairman Tom James to the firm’s Executive Council in 2003 through 2005 and again from 2013 through 2015.

In 2010 she was recognized by Raymond James as a “Woman of Distinction.” The honor came five years after Church lost her son to heart disease at age 18.

How and why did you begin your career in wealth management?

I started my investment firm in 1984, after being a real estate broker for eight years. Because of my past experience, I focused primarily on real estate investments for my clients.

However, as more and more of my clients started asking me to look into other investments for them, I expanded what I did and ultimately got my CFP certification in 1989, so I could provide full-fledged financial planning for my clients.

What have you learned from your supervisors and/or colleagues? Does one of them stand out — and if so, can you tell us who that is and why?

I truly have the best manager possible at Raymond James — Dave Morgan. Dave is always there to support me. However, unless I reach out to him, he “stays out of my way” and lets me do my own thing.

In addition, Raymond James has always had tremendous training programs to help me not only become more proficient in the various areas of financial planning and practice management, but also learning new and innovative planning strategies to help my clients grow and preserve their wealth for future generations.

Raymond James has also cultivated an environment that encourages sharing of ideas and practices among the other financial advisors in the firm. Although the education programs and forums are great, I find the sharing of ideas among my colleagues to be even more beneficial.

What have you learned from the broker-dealers you’ve worked for and how has that helped your career?

At the beginning of my career, I actually had my own broker-dealer before I joined Raymond James. In fact, I was very concerned about folding my business into another broker-dealer. It was important to me to make sure my clients would continue to get the service they were accustomed to.

When I went to Raymond James’ home office to meet senior management, I was instantly impressed and reassured. From the top down — Raymond James is all about integrity, and putting the client’s interests first. By having confidence in the back-office support and day-to-day operations, I was able to focus on meeting my clients’ needs and not the minutiae of running a business. It was, and still is, a perfect fit for me and my clients.

What is the most significant change you have seen in the industry?

The continuous trend toward a fee-based business, which I believe is very positive! I converted to a fee-based platform for my clients over 15 years ago, before it was really popular to do so. I’ve always been a fan of that because there’s no inherent “conflict of interest” built in, as there can be when you are paid commissions.

What is the biggest challenge facing you/your team today, and how are you/your team responding?

The Department of Labor … regulations on retirement accounts. We’re prepared to implement the proposed changes, but many of them are truly not in the best interests of all of our clients. This totally contradicts both Raymond James and my team’s beliefs in putting “clients first.”

What are the biggest issues confronting the wealth-management field today, and how should it respond?

If we can collectively put pressure on our elected officials and the DOL to revise or (better yet) abandon the proposed rules and then have the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission), which is our industry regulator, address a uniform fiduciary standard, then that would be a positive result. Unfortunately, right now, much of what the DOL has proposed will negatively impact our clients.

What are you doing specifically in terms of retirement planning (and/or overall wealth management) that you think is quite innovative?

It’s hardly innovative, but I am stressing to clients that they need to be more prepared for retirement than they typically are. People truly underestimate what they’ll need in retirement and will postpone as long as they can making certain decisions because the desire for instant gratification is so profound!

One area where I focus a significant amount of my practice is in pre- and post-divorce planning. I draw upon my own personal divorce experience to help clients prepare for the inevitable in terms of financial as well as emotional needs — and I try to mitigate some of the natural anxiety of their situations.

Can you tell us about one of your best relationships with a client/family and how you made it successful?

A female client asked me to sit in on her divorce mediation about seven years ago. At one point as things got “heated,” and she got very emotional, I asked her attorney and the mediator to leave the room so I could speak to the client privately. I told her at that time she had more than enough assets, and if she wanted to fight for this additional amount, which had become a bitter point of contention for her, she could be looking at over a yearlong court battle.

I asked her, “What was getting her life back worth to her?” She was stunned by my directness, but it brought her back to reality. She had been emotionally abused during the marriage, and she was now so angry at her spouse that she was ready to break free, but was also determined not to let him “win” at anything else. Over the years, she has retold this story to her friends many times, as she said it was one of the most important things anybody has ever said to (or done for) her.

What advice/tips would you give younger advisors based on your experience?

Be present! Listen! Although technology has really helped us to do so much more and be so efficient, it doesn’t replace the “human connection.”

Clients want to be heard and understood — so listen to them. I can’t stress that enough. Make it personal! Send handwritten notes. It is so much more impactful!

Who, as a mentor or source of inspiration, has most helped you and your career — and why?

My first business partner, Don Barnes, was about 30 years older than me. As a young advisor, I was a bit insecure and intimidated by people who had a lot of money. He had such confidence in me and always complimented me in front of clients, so that shored up my self-confidence immensely. I am now repaying the debt to my younger partner and associates, as his attitude helped me in so many ways.


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