Banks are still the best place for advisors to build a book of business even as traffic plummets at bank branches, according to analysts and recruiters. 

“You still have thousands of existing customers that all you have to do is call,” says Rick Rummage, president of the Rummage Group, a career consulting firm. Wirehouse advisors, in contrast, “don’t have any of that”, Rummage says, because they have “no client base to call.” 

Paul Werlin, president of Human Capital Resources, a recruiting and consulting firm focused on the financial services industry, echoes similar thinking. “Banks still make the hardest part of the job easier, and that’s adding and growing a book of business,” he says.  Despite the falling foot traffic, he adds, banks continue to be an ideal channel for anyone who hasn’t developed a book that comfortably produces in excess of $500,000.

In fact, swooning traffic has done little to dim the attractiveness of banks as a place for advisors to work.  “In our experience, it hasn’t been a negative impact,” says Rob Blevins, president of Rowlette Executive Search, a recruiting and consulting firm focused on the brokerage industry.

Read More: Lower Branch Traffic: A Blessing in Disguise?

According to recruiters and other industry observers, advisors and banks have adapted to the drop in branch traffic. “The more savvy program managers have tried to diversify the stream of referrals that go in to an FA (financial advisor),” says Werlin. “An FA relies far less today on a referral of a walk-in to the branch than they did just a few years ago.”

Blevins agrees.  “The advisors that we work with that are going to the bank programs  don’t rely on the walk-in traffic,” he says. “What they rely on is being able to mine the data base of the branch and see who has money there in order to do their prospecting in a warmer way.”

Advisors seeking a little sympathy for falling traffic are unlikely to get any.  “I think that investment services people need to stop whining about the reduction of branch traffic and figure out how clients are interacting with the bank and interact with them in that way,” says Scott Stathis, a managing director at BISRA, a research and consulting firm for banks and credit unions. “The whining about the reduction in branch traffic is a sign of the addiction to transactional business, which isn’t the best type of business for the organization anyway.”

Stathis notes that the most successful bank advisors have fewer clients than the average advisor because they’re doing a better job developing deeper relationships with clients that have additional needs.

Still, for advisors at banks that limit or block access to the client base, the drop in traffic might hurt. Rummage estimates that 30% to 40% of banks don’t allow open access to bank customers, particularly at smaller, service-driven banks. About half give partial access. By his estimates, only about 10% of banks give advisors full access to the client base, meaning they see all the customer information that tellers and other bank employees see.

If advisors at banks with limited or no access are successful, it’s because they’re in a location where the tellers and other branch members are “giving them enough referrals to keep them going,” Rummage says.

For advisors at banks that lag rivals in making referrals to the investment services department, the drop in traffic certainly can’t help.  But by and large, banks appear to be adapting to the new environment, according to observers.

“Banks are getting to understand that making referrals across departments and across silos is far more than who happens to walk into a branch and talks to a CSR (customer service representative) and says, ‘Gee, I don’t like your rates on CDs. What else you got?’” says Werlin.

Stathis sees the new virtual world of banking as a positive development. “I view it as another catalyst in helping the industry evolve in the direction that it needs to if it truly wants to compete with the big boys in the industry – the wirehouses and the Merrill Lynches of the world,” he says.

Read More: Lower Branch Traffic: A Blessing in Disguise?


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