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What the Top BDs of 2020 Have Learned During the COVID-19 Crisis

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IA: How about top lessons that you’ve learned during the pandemic?

Amy Webber, Cambridge: What’s been validated for me is that I literally have the best executive team on the planet. They are amazing. They mobilized really fast, which allowed me to focus more on the higher level — the morale and the psychological well-being of our associates and advisors — as we moved to where what’s business and what’s personal had to converge quickly.

As a leader, it’s been tough to know that no matter where we go, there’s a strong possibility we’re not going to win over a 100% of the people that we care about. But we had to make the best decisions that we could.

It became part of my job to just constantly remind everyone that we aren’t choosing anybody over anybody else, and that this is a difficult time. We’re trying to make the best decisions we can for Cambridge Nation as a whole.

Also, I’m convinced you need some office space. You must bring some [staff] back at some point in time and in some way, shape or form, because we’ve got to keep that component of our business that is relationships still going. [Staff] need to be able to look across at their associates sitting next to them and talk … about their day.

I’m not saying we can’t keep being excellent for a year [in a virtual environment]. But I don’t see that as a fully sustainable model for our business for five or 10 years.

That’s what I’m thinking about constantly. What [virtual] pieces make us better and stronger collectively, so we want to hold on to them? What do we need to bring back [to the office]? How does that need to be rethought? What do we need to do to help ourselves execute in the new world that we’re headed into?

Lon Dolber, American Portfolios: From a leadership point of view, it was an opportunity to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. I’ve always told my employees that they were the most important. So I had to stand tall and tell my employees, they would have well-being no matter what. They would not be laid off.

I do think that they were convinced of that 100%, and that’s why they went the extra distance with safety and security to support the advisors in the field.

We were already through our merit increases, and we had this big discussion about what to do about that. We did the merit increases. I wanted them to know I would do whatever I’d had to do to keep their compensation, with no layoffs and no diminutions.

I was worried. I wasn’t sure what the outcome of all this would mean for our business, but I knew I had to give that confidence to my employees.

Ryan Diachok, Geneos: There were a pretty scary couple of weeks there when none of us knew what our businesses, communities and the country were going to look like.

This was a culmination, and like what Lon said, you’ve got to walk the walk. We got out in front of it and had a lot of pretty meaningful conversations with our employees on one side and then with advisors on the other side. We were not going to have any layoffs; we’re going to take care of our people.

Also, I’ve got a fantastic management team as well that stepped up and reacted very quickly and efficiently. After all these years of building these systems — BCP, voice, cloud and such — you don’t really know how it’s all going to work and how people are going to react when they’re working in a remote environment for months and months on end.

It’s just been a great sense of pride to watch how our team has reacted. And there’s going to be a balance. You’re not going to go 100% remote. You can’t in this business. There is such a human element, even inside an office, that you can’t replicate [virtually]. That’s going to be a challenge for all of us.

You can give people an option, since you want them to be able to feel safe. How do we as leaders manage what that’s going to look like — not in the next three months, but in the next three to five years? Whether COVID-19 drags on or not, the industry has changed, so how are we going to react?

Dolber: It does create an opportunity though, because now the whole country is open for your hiring. Think about it. Geography doesn’t dictate talent anymore.

Webber: We actually proceeded with opening a second primary location in Phoenix during all of this. The building will be completed in October. We’ve got about 11 employees hired completely virtually and remotely working out of that area. They can’t wait to get into the office.

I’ve read recently that perhaps the ideal productivity and employee-satisfaction levels fall somewhere in the hybrid model of so many days a week — one or two days — remote. These employees have the highest productivity and satisfaction, which makes total sense to me.

John Burmeister, Lion Street: You can rotate employees to keep them safe. We were very open with our employees about our decision-making process.

We still have a handful of people going into the office because they have to. We’ve been setting up a safe environment with cleaning stations and such. We finished an expansion on the 25th floor at the end of last year — completely renovated it and now we can’t use it as planned.

Also, without face-to-face interaction, we’ve tried to up our game at the executive level. Our senior vice presidents in the field, we call them firm builders, are out there consulting with firms on how to expand their businesses, to grow and to reach their multiples even in times like these.

We brought in professional speakers like Terry Sjodin to walk us through the best way to communicate in this environment. How can we up our game and do some of the things that we said wanted to do?

We’re continuing to recruit — bringing on new firms and new owners. Business is still thriving.

But how do we adopt and adapt new technologies, workflows and processes to make sure that we’re running as efficiently as possible? There’s going to be a certain amount of time at which point productivity will fade.

Now, the good news is everything’s web based. You can track production and see who’s moving which widgets. You really do get a good feel for the business. But there’s nothing like being next to somebody over lunch or a drink and having that interaction. We’ve got to get back to that at some point.

For a rundown of what the leaders of the 2020 Broker-Dealers of the Year think about the industry today and other topics, as well as a summary of the Runners Up, please click on these story links: