Treating people the way you would like to be treated is the Golden Rule in life, as well as in business. And at the heart of this tenet lives honesty and authenticity, traits that heighten an individual’s natural affinity to connect on a level where a mutually beneficial outcome reigns.
Listening and responding like a fiduciary when providing a service – no matter if you are an advisor, within firm management or even a recruiter like me – allows you to build a relationship based on trust which engenders loyalty, personal connection and growth.
If you think about it, a financial advisor’s role is to listen, provide relevant information, educate, be an objective sounding board and help clients achieve their financial goals. The expectation of immediate personal gratification on the part of the advisor is not part of the equation, yet often has a snowballing effect that people respond to by providing referrals, which often results in more business.
In a recent conversation with a very successful wirehouse advisor who manages over a $1BN in client assets, he seemed somewhat surprised that in 2015 when the markets were flat, his team had a year of amazing growth: over 25%. I know that this group of advisors is bright, talented and capable, yet their success is likely about much more than that. They are well-known for doing the right thing for clients, always keeping their best interests in mind without an expectation of the outcome. It is a way of life for this team – one might say embedded in their culture – to ensure they follow the “Golden Rule” and they have been rewarded in both peace of mind and a solid bottom line.
Applying a similar philosophy to organizations and their responsibility to their advisors, the results are similarly positive. When advisors refer to the “great culture” at their firm, it speaks to a concept that is subjective yet palpable. A firm that fosters a great culture with the organizational philosophy of authenticity will have long-term benefits: a trickledown effect on retention and loyalty. For example, advisors at Raymond James have a very different sense of loyalty to the firm (reported at less than 1% attrition per year) when compared to advisors at wirehouses that may “no longer look or function like the firm” that they originally thought they joined.
Considering the vast changes to the advisory business as a whole – such as increasing regulatory requirements, evolving business models, and advances in technology – there’s no doubt that wirehouse culture has morphed into something their employees no longer recognize. With thousands of employees to manage and the ever-watchful eye on profitability, many wirehouses have indeed become more bureaucratic and less personal. Today there are firms that counter the typical wirehouse model by having their advisors own their own book of business (even as employees), providing retention bonuses for their loyalty and treating advisors as if they are “the clients” deserving of responsiveness and service.
This kind of attention to the individual from the corporate level sends the message that each individual matters—and that’s where the positive trickledown begins.
Not that culture can be regulated or dictated, but FINRA is working in 2016 towards a more objective set of criteria to evaluate the culture of a firm, reviewing incentives and conflicts of interest in the retail brokerage sector. They have been collecting information on how firms navigate conflicts of interest in areas like proprietary products and the compensation structure for registered reps to be sure that the clients’ interests are being served in the process. And the Labor Department is poised to release a final rule in the spring that, though controversial, is intended to ensure that financial advisers act in the best interests of their clients when dealing with retirement accounts.
At the end of the day, successful advisors and businesses will thrive when their core principles are rooted in integrity and fiduciary responsibility. Doing the right thing – without the thought of the immediate benefit to the individual or organization – fosters loyalty which, in turn, has long-term positive rewards. And, in the short run, it certainly allows each of us to feel better about the work that we do and sleep better at night.