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2018 IA 25 Independent Broker-Dealer Winners

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Cambridge Investment Research President & CEO Amy Webber tells advisors that the fundamentals of growing their practices and working with clients haven’t changed: “It’s trust. You have to adapt to the rest, but trust is the hard work and you can do this. Gen X needs you even if they don’t know it,” she recently tweeted.

The executive also believes that happy associates “make happy clients.” Webber says the firm nurtures the importance of giving back and “taking care of your own.” If one of Cambridge’s 700-plus employees has a health problem or emergency, “It’s amazing to watch how quickly our organization pulls together as a family. That’s a part of our culture,” she explained last year.

In addition, the firm supports the communities in which it does business. “We have … Cambridge Community Kindness Matching Gifts and Dollars for Doers for employees and for our [3,000-plus] financial professionals,” Webber explained.

Securities America President & CEO Jim Nagengast says he and his colleagues are “big believers in coaching, because when you get better everyone around you gets better.” The broker-dealer, which supports about 2,200 independent reps, started its educational conference for support staff, Assistant University, 20 years ago.

During the 2008-2009 financial crisis and other rough moments, Nagengast says he learned that goodwill pays off. “Always make deposits of good- will with employees and business partners, and during tough times they will stick with you,” he explained.

HD Vest Financial Services CEO Bob Oros is a strong supporter of innovation, but that doesn’t mean the firm’s 4,000 independent reps need to make “big leaps” as incremental innovation is just fine: “Advisors should ask themselves, do you have a systemic approach to constantly getting better? Are you willing to take a risk by trying things that may or may not work?” he said.

Oros suggests FAs assign special projects to more junior and diverse staff, “who will bring different thinking,” develop an advisory board that includes leaders in different industries, and bring in college interns for “fresh thinking and fresh ideas.”

Above all, the former Fidelity RIA chief emphasizes, focus on the client experience: “We live in a world where the consumer has all the power … to decide how and when they do business. This applies from ordering transportation (Uber/Lyft), to buying shoes to (Zappos) and purchasing just about anything to arrive the next day (Amazon). Why would financial services be any different?”

Valerie Brown, executive chairman of the 5,000-rep Advisor Group, sits on the board of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association and the Financial Services Institute (FSI). “The professional growth of women is critical to the future of the financial services sector,” she explained recently in a statement.

“At Advisor Group, we recognize the need to increase the number of, and accelerate the path to success for, women in this industry,” added Brown, the former CEO of Cetera Financial Group. “Our growing mentorship program, our new podcast series, and our upcoming internship program are just some examples of how we are not just talking about supporting women advisors, but building actionable programs that will make a difference.”

David Knoch, president of 1st Global, doesn’t pull any punches. “The pace of change in our industry is incredibly fast and getting faster,” he said. “Broker-dealers and advisory firms have two options, and only one is a good one: Embrace it and be proactive in adapting to change, or ignore it and keep doing what got you to this point.”

While recognizing that change is hard, Knoch explains that he does his best “to challenge our firm and our leaders to have the courage to change and communicate it well, so we can deliver what our [roughly 400] affiliated CPA firms need, even if they haven’t asked for it yet. I believe we have a responsibility to our clients to envision, create, communicate and lead.”

In his over 20 years of working in financial services, next year’s FSI board chair has learned that “when you take the risk and lead with integrity, it always turns out the right way in the end,” he said. “Take the risk and break away from the crowd! It will be rewarded.”

— Read the profiles of the 2018 IA 25 winners in the other five categories: