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Program managers across the country discuss biggest challenges

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What do this year’s top program managers see as the biggest challenges facing the bank channel? Some of them weighed in anonymously on this and other questions we sent them.

Not everyone responded to each question, and there was a lot of overlap, some of which we reduced or deleted. We also eliminated answers that simply touted the virtues of their bank or third-party broker-dealer.

But after that, we took a light hand, editing mostly for flow. So here is the result, a lightly edited version of the insights and advice from our top program managers.

Q1: What are the biggest challenges facing the bank channel now and how are you meeting that challenge?
• Our greatest challenge is in educating our membership regarding the importance of preparing for retirement. Many people hear the words “financial advisor” or “wealth management” and they think it doesn’t apply to them because they either don’t have wealth or believe it’s too early to begin planning. To overcome those challenges takes persistence in messaging along with an informed staff that can offer guidance and pass along referrals.

• Even though it appears that DoL legislation is not going to be implemented as expected, the fiduciary standards that were part of the rule are likely here to stay. It also appears that the SEC is going to pick it up and apply many of the same standards in managing client accounts. Preparing for this is one of our biggest areas of focus.

• One of the biggest challenges is diminishing foot traffic in the branches. We have made our branch training more purposeful, emphasizing that our opportunities are less in numbers and more on the quality of client relationships.

• The digital transformation with how we serve customers. Fewer traditional branches are needed as more customers prefer to do business via digital channels.

• One of the big challenges affecting the bank channel is the uncertainty of the bank broker–dealers. I believe that many large bank programs are all over the board with their strategies for how they want to serve the mass-affluent. I have seen high turnover among some of the best producers from well-established bank programs. The reason that I hear that they are leaving is due to feeling underappreciated and a poor work environment to serve their clients. We are meeting that challenge at my bank by creating a work environment that offers a high level of autonomy, professionalism and administrative support for the advisor.

Don't be afraid to make the coffee in the morning or empty the shred bin at night.

• The biggest challenge is the significant reduction in transactional business, which has made it more difficult for new financial advisors joining the industry to earn significant incomes for several years. A newly hired advisor needs to accumulate $20 million to $30 million in fee-based assets to get to the critical mass needed to earn a consistent living. We are meeting this challenge is by hiring advisors with a solid background in fee-based managed account business. In most cases our new hires are bringing loyal clients with them.

• The continued need to groom and coach young advisors and the changing regulatory requirements are the biggest challenges.

Q2: What is your biggest objective over the next three years?
• We continue to focus our efforts on advisory services and recurring revenue rather than transaction and commission revenue.

• Succession planning. As advisors retire, our objective is to begin succession planning early to create a smooth transition for clients.

• We need to be communicating effectively to centers of influence and clients that we are much more than investment advisors. We have the capabilities, resources and the desire to add value beyond just managing their assets.

• To retain and grow my advisor team and to retain and grow our client base. In addition, my goal is to have the highest customer survey scores in the firm!

• Achieve the highest advisor productivity in the industry. Have the first $10 million advisor in the industry.

• Increase the number of clients who consider us their primary bank for all of their financial needs, especially wealth management.
• Our biggest objective is to partner with our mortgage department to market our program to their clients.

• Continue to encourage a holistic and planning approach to come up with appropriate solutions for clients.

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Q3: What’s your best piece of career advice for rookie advisors?
• To work with your client regardless of their present financial situation and to always keep their financial plans at the center of your plan. It is a team effort and together the dream can be achieved.

• Find a niche or something you can be passionate about. There are many ways to manage client accounts. Find the one that allows you to convey that passion. You can’t do everything well. You may not win every opportunity but you will build an attractive and scalable business over time.

• The best thing I learned in a bank brokerage is that the bankers are your number one client. Take care of them and they will trust you with their clients. Don't be afraid to make the coffee in the morning or empty the shred bin at night.

• My advice is to network with other experienced advisors in your office. Advisors can be each other’s best resources. Take time to learn from experienced advisors, understand different investment philosophies, ask what they do differently from when they first started, how they built their practice and so on.

• My best piece of advice for rookie advisors is become part of a well-established organized team in any capacity, be an active listener, become an expert at behavioral psychology, remain humble, and treat others the way you would like to be treated.

The biggest challenge is the significant reduction in transactional business, which has made it more difficult for new financial advisors to earn significant incomes for several years.

• I believe it is in the best interest of newly hired financial advisors to partner up with an experienced advisor. The day-to-day knowledge that the rookie advisor receives is invaluable.

• Wouldn’t say there is one piece of advice, but the overall message to all rookie advisors that seems to resonate is: Think like a business owner, be creative trying different approaches, utilize the resources the firm provides, and stay positive. Bottom line: There is no magic bullet, except hard work and consistency.

• Don’t take short cuts. Always do the right thing. Build relationships and focus on successful partnerships that you can leverage in the bank. Make every day count.

• In today’s regulatory and competitive environment you have to stay in one place long enough for good things to happen. It takes time, hard work and a great deal of patience to get an advisory business off the ground!

• Be sincere and be honest. Always have a sense of intellectual curiosity and learn as much as you can.

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