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This year, leading wirehouse and regional wealth management firms saw the financial crisis recede even farther in the rear-view mirror.
Our leaders positioned themselves for success in a variety of ways. Some stayed the course and preserved capital. Others doubled down and invested in their core businesses. Regardless of which strategies they used, this year's top performers took the steps necessary to ensure they reap rewards as markets hit new highs.
The firms on the Leaderboards were ranked based on self-reported data about their employee advisor channel. The data was gathered in a survey by On Wall Street 's editorial team.
Although the sources of their revenues differ, these leaders all share one quality: That's why, rather than relying on the markets to carry them forward, these top firms are eyeing the road ahead and making the necessary preparations to thrive, no matter what comes next. They are investing in initiatives such as training programs, expanding technology infrastructure to meet the demands of increasingly tech-savvy advisors and clients, and sharpening their regulatory response to address the next round of reforms quickly and efficiently.
And they are doing it while maintaining a consistent commitment to their clients' success. The Next Generation One of the areas that currently has the attention and resources of industry leaders is the looming talent gap.
About 8, advisors will reach retirement age in each of the next 13 years, according to a report from consulting firm Cerulli Associates. That doesn't include the 24, current advisors who are age 68 and older, the report states. Those demographics have inspired leading wealth management firms to deploy aggressive new techniques to build their bench. Merrill Lynch 1 on Total Revenue Leaderboard recently revamped its advisor training program to improve long-term advisor retention and quality.
Merrill Lynch isn't making it easier on itself, though. Its own studies show that a trainee's performance after nine months is an excellent leading indicator of his or her probable long-term success as an advisor. As part of its revised training program, trainees who fail to meet certain benchmarks after nine months are put on probation.
In order to retain those who make the cut, the company has rolled out a formal mentorship program, where trainees can get one-on-one feedback from an established advisor during weekly meetings.
In late , Raymond James 9 also adopted a phased approach to training in order to identify highly qualified advisors faster. Its Advisor Mastery Program divides the training into an introductory period that posts candidates at a branch. They periodically return to the firm's St. This approach prevents both the firm and unfit candidates from wasting time and resources and is a good example of forward thinking, says Cerulli analyst Sean Daly.
Baird 8 , based in Milwaukee, Wis. Baird provides a full salary, plus performance bonuses for both years. It is a shift in focus for the firm, which has traditionally targeted career changers and brought up younger candidates through support staff roles. Passing the Baton As its advisor base, composed predominantly of boomers the average advisor is Six years ago, Patrick O'Connell, executive vice president of the Ameriprise Advisor Group 10 , developed a program in which its advisors can purchase the book of business of a departing advisor, either at Ameriprise or another house.
Each deal takes up to 18 months to close and often occurs between two advisors who have a pre-existing relationship. Many at Ameriprise were skeptical when the program began.
But the initiative has gained momentum as word of successes has spread and more advisors began to retire. Similarly, Raymond James makes sure that advisors have a full menu of options when they are preparing to pass along their businesses. Retiring advisors can decide where they want their clients to wind up, even if it is outside the firm. Technology as a Differentiator Another way that organizations consistently rise to the top of our annual ranking is by giving their advisors the best technology possible.
This not only makes them more efficient, but it helps advisors connect with clients on the clients' terms, which enhances asset retention. That's why leading firms leverage technology solutions as a differentiator that drives success. One firm that is building a technology advantage is Wells Fargo 3. Joe Nadreau, managing director of the firm's Strategic Solutions Group, says the company is focused on enhancing mobility, improving best practices and creating ways to better link financial advisors and clients, including new iPad applications.
The adoption of mobile technologies means that advisors are no longer confined to a mile radius when it comes to working with clients, Nadreau says. Wells Fargo gives advisors alerts about how well their clients' portfolios are performing against life goals, which are set and tracked in the firm's proprietary investment planning program.
The firm's technology also highlights rate changes for possible loan restructuring and other portfolio management information, he adds. Video conferencing is also becoming a key technology that helps move leaders ahead. At Merrill Lynch, all of the firm's financial advisors currently have access to some level of video capability through their desktops or tablets, according to Scott Logan, head of business technology for the Global Wealth and Investment Management unit.
He says the video capabilities have already brought benefits to client relationships. The technology allows advisors to see facial expressions and signs of restlessness or boredom, something you can't do on a phone, says Logan, and getting this crucial feedback allows advisors to modify their approach. A focus on technology user interface, for both clients and advisors, differentiates industry leaders.
Philadelphia-based Janney Montgomery Scott 11 recently upgraded its platform, developed new technology for its brokerage force, and refined its client portal. A new desktop allows the advisor to aggregate all household assets and then model out retirement scenarios on-screen in front of the client. The firm's updated client portal is designed to be more engaging and intuitive, key considerations going forward, according to a Cerulli report. The report concludes that "portals designed intuitively to provide everything from basic account statements to meaningful market content to [financial plan] review can help relieve advisors of more straightforward client interactions and minimize distractions.
Regulatory Super Bowl The storm on the horizon, the one that has the power to most dramatically reshape the Leaderboards next year, is regulation. The Dodd-Frank Act and other regulatory reforms created in the wake of the debacle can have a dramatic impact on revenues at firms that don't adequately anticipate and prepare for them, says John Taft, head of RBC Wealth Management 7.
Top of mind among this year's leading firms are proposals for uniform fiduciary standards of conduct, one from the U. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and the Securities and Exchange Commission are considering another initiative that could apply a uniform standard of care for all broker-dealers and investment advisors.
In order to prepare, RBC and many other leading firms are transitioning compensation models to a fee structure, rather than continuing to rely on the commission model.
Moreover, RBC developed an approach to implementing future regulations that integrates responses among legal teams, compliance, business executives, advisory, technology and operations personnel.
This, says Taft, ensures that all aspects of new rules are followed and monitored appropriately. Next Year's Leaders Staying at the top of the rankings will depend on a firm's ability to master the talent gap, succession planning, technology and regulatory compliance. More than that, preparing for the future will require that firms maximize growth and expand margins so they can prepare now for the inevitable turbulence to come.
Next year's leaderboard will feature firms that were able to make the most progress on these fronts while the markets are favorable. Already have an account? Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access. The network for financial advisors The network for financial advisors. Resources Practice Portfolio Industry Voices. Register or login for access to this item and much more All On Wall Street content is archived after seven days. All recent and archived articles Conference offers and updates A full menu of enewsletter options Web seminars, white papers, ebooks Already have an account?
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