Six independent broker-dealers are runners up in the 2019 Investment Advisor Broker-Dealer of the Year awards, having been recognized by their advisors for service excellence. As in past years, this most recent poll was highly competitive. Plus, more than 1,300 advisors participated in the program’s online survey.
The BDs being recognized as runners up for 2019 are Park Avenue Securities, Next Financial, Geneos Wealth Management, Harbour Investments, Peak Brokerage Services and Lion Street Financial. (A list of the six BDs selected as honorable mentions for the year is found further down in the story.)
We asked leaders of these six firms to discuss some of the innovative services, activities or products they’ve rolled out over the past 12 months and explain why these offerings make a difference for their advisor clients. Their insights highlight the many creative ways firms strive to support advisors in a rapidly changing industry.
Location, Location, Location
Harbour Investments decided to make some changes regarding how and where it holds regional meetings, earning it “a lot of positive feedback” from its 217 affiliated independent advisors, according to Aaron M. Hager, vice president of business development.
The Madison, Wisconsin-based company, for instance, chose to hold one educational event at Lambeau Field, the venerable stadium for the NFL’s Green Bay Packers.
“Secondly, we changed the format of many of these [programs] to have smaller class sizes with a very directed topic,” Hager said. “This past year, we focused the first round of meetings on how to better leverage our no-platform-fee advisory solutions, and the second round on best practices for streamlining office efficiencies.”
In a similar vein, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida-based Peak Brokerage Services recently launched its new advisor experience, the Peak Performance Series. According to Glen McRary, executive vice president of growth and business development, the events are led by “advisor-mentors, who share their expertise, materials, presentations and time” with Peak’s 71 advisor clients.
“Several have hosted a client event, inviting advisors to observe a top-producer in real-time,” McRary explained. “Our approach directly addresses frailties with traditional advisor-training models. In particular, many are led by corporate staff who’ve never sat with a client; others are run by wholesalers with product-driven strategies or by someone whose advice is outdated.”
To supplement these events, Peak uses “advisor-coaches” to “connect advisors with specialized top producers,” he says, and the IBD hosts monthly “virtual lunch and learns.”
Turn FAs into CEOs
Lion Street Financial’s dedicated resources “help our firms execute a customized business plan,” says John Burmeister, president and CEO, of the Austin, Texas-based IBD, which has 149 advisor clients.
These resources empower advisory firms to “identify specific growth areas, codify the actions needed to achieve them and become the working document for checkpoints throughout the year,” he explains. “We help our advisors become CEOs of their businesses.”
Some independent broker-dealers have focused on new systems to support their advisor clients. For example, Geneos Wealth Management of Centennial, Colorado, has updated its internal Workflow system to serve its 285 advisors, according to President Ryan W. Diachok.
“All documentation that is submitted through the broker-dealer is routed through Workflow, and our most recent version has increased transparency significantly and now allows advisors and their staff to track all pending business through every step of the process,” Diachok said.
“This transparency has created a more efficient process and better communication between the back office and our advisors,” he added.
Platform, Model Updates
Likewise, Houston-based Next Financial had “an outpouring of activity on our recently enhanced Next Advisor Services,” according to President Barry Knight.
“The sheer amount of support we’ve received from our  advisors is a testament to the ease-of-use and vast product offerings of our platforms and technology. What’s more, our addition to the Atria Wealth Solutions’ family heralds better technology and even more competitive platforms in the future.”
Changing its model was a key way to aid its 2,016 affiliated advisors, says John Palazzetti, president of Park Avenue Securities, which is located in New York: “Over the past few years, we have introduced a robust offering around fee-for-advice — including fee-based solutions for business exit planning, fee-for-service 401(k) solutions, and most recently, subscription-based financial planning.”
Park Avenue Securities feels “strongly” about subscriptions-based relationships and what they can offer both advisors and their clients, Palazzetti adds.
“It affords our advisors the flexibility to focus on the areas in their clients’ lives that are the most impactful, and this ultimately leads to deeper, longer-lasting relationships,” he explained. “It also allows our clients to feel a true partnership with their advisor and adds transparency around compensation, regardless of whether a financial transaction takes place.”
Getting feedback from their advisors and attentively listening to their ideas and needs also are critical for these independent broker-dealers. According to Palazzetti, executives with Park Avenue Securities spend much of their professional time in the field via office visits, meetings, events and phone calls.
“We truly believe that without financial professional input and buy-in, any work we do around service enhancements and new initiatives will not be successful,” he said.
In addition, Park Avenue Securities has a field advisory board “with whom we share new concepts and gather feedback quarterly to help inform important business decisions,” the executive explains. “We provide frequent updates to ensure strong relationships with the field.”
Next Financial’s Knight also believes that having open dialogue with advisors is vital to their growth and satisfaction: “In fact, our in-the-field team of business-management consultants have personalized relationships with each of our advisors, providing solutions to their specific issues in real time.”
Furthermore, Next polls its affiliated advisors “after every program and incorporates their feedback into our subsequent planning processes,” he says. “Perhaps most importantly, our management team is charged to make outbound calls to advisors each year to better understand how we can improve.”
Harbour Financial sets goals for its leaders and staff that include face-to-face meetings with advisors four times a year — through regional meetings, national conferences, corporate trips and audits, according to Hager.
For Geneos Wealth, the firm’s “boutique” size allows it to have regular conversations with affiliated advisors, Diachok says. The purpose of these chats is not only to give them the chance to raise potential issues they may be having, but also to foster collaboration between them and senior management “on new ideas, policies or technologies that can benefit [everyone].”
Given its ownership structure, Lion Street’s leaders “have an obligation to listen to our [advisor] partners,” according to Burmeister.
“We have two formal methods in addition to ongoing feedback,” he said. “First, we perform a 360 session with recently transitioned firms to gauge their activation and integration with our company. The second is our Executive Advisory Board, which gives us input on our strategic direction and feedback on our current operating performance.”
Having the right culture makes a big difference when it comes to the sharing of powerful ideas, says Peak Trading’s McRary. “In that true spirit of partnership, we established Peak’s Advisory Council to engage our advisors in directing firm initiatives, working hand-in-hand with our team,” he explained.
In addition, Peak regularly solicits feedback from the field at large on issues faced by advisors and others “with an eye towards the future,” McRary says. “A perfect example is Peak’s Financial Security Program, our comprehensive non-traditional solution for advisors looking to exit the industry while continuing to receive a stream of income.”