Laura Callahan, left, and Katie Costigan of Baird. Laura Callahan, left, and Katie Costigan.

Baird’s top 2021 goals include stepped-up diversity initiatives and the continued integration of former Hilliard Lyons associates into the employee-owned financial firm, Baird executives told ThinkAdvisor.

Related: Merrill’s Andy Sieg: Diversity Is a ‘Commercial Imperative’

“Supporting the needs of women and diverse advisors, and growing their ranks, remains a priority for both the firm” overall and its Private Wealth Management division, according to Katie Costigan, market director for PWM and managing director of Experienced Advisor Recruiting.

Noting she is one of two women at Baird to hold the title of market director, a top leadership role within the PWM business, she said: “Looking ahead to 2021, we are prioritizing an increase in the number of women in branch leader roles.”

The firm, which had more than $305 billion in client assets as of June 30, already has “several women in the pipeline,” but she said: “We recognize there’s still a long way to go when bringing women to the table in this industry, and we’re committed to getting there through promoting our top talent, recruiting from outside Baird and more.”

Previously, the company created Baird Women Advisors, a network of female financial advisors at the firm, in 2008, she noted, explaining: “By bringing advisors together to share best practices and help one another reach their highest potential, the group is committed to promoting the profession and making Baird the best place to work for wealth management women.”

Diversity and inclusion have “always been very top of mind for Baird, and we’ve been proud of” that, according to Laura Callahan, director of PWM Talent at the company. “But our efforts have increased” on these fronts in 2020, she told ThinkAdvisor.

For example, Baird hired Ashley Price to serve as a PWM diversity talent advisor in October, and she will be helping Baird with continued partnerships with universities and high schools in 2021, Callahan said.

Baird also has the PWM Financial Advisors Foundations Program, which, since 2012, has “always been a pipeline for [moving] diverse talent at Baird into a financial advisor role,” Callahan pointed out.

“To date, 43% of those associates in that program have been women and 25% have been … people of color — and we are increasing those stats looking forward into 2021,” Callahan said, adding: “We’re dedicated to having 70% of our next-gen Foundations associates being diverse — women or people of color.”

Hilliard Lyons Integration

Baird announced in November 2018 that it was acquiring Hilliard Lyons for an undisclosed price, creating a firm that was projected to have close to 1,300 financial advisors and some $250 billion in client assets.

The purchase closed in 2019, and included Hilliard Lyons Trust and about 380 advisors with Hilliard Lyons, which had its headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky.

Baird’s “biggest goal from my perspective” for 2021 is the “continued integration of formerly Hilliard Lyons associates, which was the largest acquisition in Baird’s history,” Callahan said Friday. Hilliard Lyons is now integrated into Baird, while Hilliard Lyons Trust Company is a Baird company that remains under its original name.

“The joining of these forces allowed us to expand Baird’s offerings to benefit our collective clients,” she added.

Recruiting in a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic certainly impacted the way in which Baird recruits new advisors, Costigan also pointed out during a phone interview with the two executives.

For one thing, there used to always be a visit to Baird’s Milwaukee headquarters during the recruitment process, she noted. Since the pandemic started, “we’ve pivoted to a virtual Milwaukee visit and have conducted over 30 of those since June,” she said, adding Baird has extended offers to some of those candidates and some have already started at the firm.

Although she expected recruitment to slow during the pandemic, it hasn’t, she pointed out. Some advisor prospects have been eager to hear how Baird has responded to the pandemic because they were not happy with the way their firms responded to it, she said.

Some advisors, meanwhile, are nervous to make a change. Others see this as the best time to move with their books of business for reasons that include the fact that most clients are home now because of the pandemic and can be reached easily to go through the transfer process, Costigan said, echoing a positive that several breakaway RIAs have pointed to in recent months.

Related: 40% of Advisors Say Switching Firms Is Easier Than Before Pandemic: Fidelity

Baird even opened two new branch offices during the pandemic, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Columbia, Tennessee, she said, noting the firm had offices in those states already but not in those cities.

Another Pandemic Challenge

Throughout the pandemic, “we were all truly amazed and kind of just taken aback in the most positive way by the adaptability, the flexibility, the resilience of our associates” and advisors, she also said.

Many branch support associates did not have prior experience working remotely before the pandemic. “We had a very quick pivot over really less than two weeks of taking an entire workforce” of about 700-800 associates who work with Baird’s advisors and “move them to working from home,” she explained.

Many of the firm’s 1,300 advisors, meanwhile, could but did not opt to work from home prior to the pandemic, she pointed out. “We were able to make that quick pivot” with them also to remote work and “service our clients really seamlessly” since the start of the pandemic, she said. “Our clients have been adaptable as well,” she added.

An increasing number of advisors and associates have been returning to Baird’s 166 PWM branch offices since the fall, she went on to say, noting that while many have gotten comfortable working remotely, they like the flexibility of working on a hybrid basis as needed.

One additional thing Baird will be focused on in 2021, Callahan said, is “the continued evolution of our workforce and workplace of the future, and we actually have a dedicated project team within Private Wealth looking at that.”

— Related on ThinkAdvisor: