How four visionaries built their super branches from the ground up.
By offering enhanced local support and personalized service, super branches have become an increasingly popular option for financial professionals looking to keep their independence, grow their business and work with people who know them by name.
As a result, it’s never been a better time to be an OSJ or branch manager with a goal to build a firm that might one day achieve super-branch status.
There isn’t a hard-and-fast industry definition of a super branch, but, in general, an OSJ or branch office that supports 10 or more financial professionals who produce at least $3 million in combined GDC and operate in multiple geographic locations would fit into this category.
The following are the stories of four visionaries who took their firms to that lofty level. Their paths and methods may have differed, but each will tell you building a super branch takes a goal, a plan, persistence and the right mix of people.
A Goal to Build a Texas-Sized Super Branch
In 2002, Clyde Wyatt had a vision of what his firm could be. He recognized the potential to grow and eventually become a highly productive super branch. With that objective in mind, he and three other directors of Navigation Financial Group in Dallas, Texas, left their insurance-based broker-dealer and joined Securities America.
“We came here with the idea to grow the firm,” said Wyatt, who serves as the firm’s managing director. “Soon after we had six financial professionals follow us. We had a dream to get to $10 million in GDC. So we hired a full-time compliance person and began our trek.”
In 2006, Wyatt took on the role of OSJ. The foundation for his vision was in place, but the growth they’d counted on wasn’t happening. The Navigation team modified its plans and adjusted its recruiting strategies, but it appeared the bar may have been set too high.
“We went through a six-year period from 2006 to 2012 where we tried everything,” Wyatt said. “We worked with Securities America. We brought in a third-party recruiter. We even hired an inside recruiter. We had some modest growth, but we were just treading water at that point. So we decided maybe this was just who we are; maybe we weren’t going to get any bigger.”
Despite the setbacks, Wyatt and his team persisted, and recruiting strategies that originally hadn’t produced results gained traction. By 2013, business had grown by about 35 percent.
“We kept pushing against the wall, and eventually the wall started moving,” Wyatt said.
Initially, the firm targeted financial professionals in the $200,000 to $400,000 GDC level, but its value proposition seemed to appeal to only higher producing financial professionals. Wyatt and the other directors persisted and eventually garnered the attention of financial professionals who matched their original profile. Today, Navigation Financial supports 32 financial professionals with $7.2 million in GDC.
When developing his long-range plan, Wyatt anticipated increasing staff to keep pace with the extra business. As the envisioned growth became a reality, he added a second full-time acting principal, a part-time acting principal and an office manager.
In addition to filling critical support positions, the firm leveraged technology to streamline the workflow, provide financial professionals a flexible platform to grow their businesses and communicate with Navigation Financial offices spread out across Texas and the southern United States.
Wyatt said the secret for OSJs seeking growth is to believe in yourself and your program and to persevere.
“I would encourage them to keep pushing against that wall,” he said. “We came close to giving up on our growth potential. We knew we had a marketable program and continued to attract financial professionals. It was just about going up to them and saying, ‘This is who we are.’”
Staying the Course Pays Off
In 2009, when Queen City Financial Advisors of Cincinnati, Ohio, became an independent branch, its registered principal and president, Chuck Hais, knew the firm had potential to expand beyond its 21 financial professionals. Unfortunately, his growth plans were stymied almost immediately by an unforeseen circumstance. Securities America, Queen City’s new broker-dealer, was in the process of being purchased by Ladenburg Thalmann. Prospective financial professionals were wary of joining a broker-dealer undergoing a change in ownership, especially during a historic low point in the market.
Rather than take a step backward, Hais said he used that slow recruiting period to “turn a negative into a positive” by carefully evaluating what other broker-dealers were offering and adjusting his goals and growth plans. After the change of ownership was complete, Ladenburg Thalmann’s influence on prospects proved to have a positive effect on recruiting.
“The number kept increasing,” Hais said. “I thought if we could get to 30 financial professionals, that was a nice number. But once we passed that, I thought we could get to 40.”
Today, Queen City Financial Advisors maintains a dual-relationship model with 40 financial professionals. Seven work from its Cincinnati office and 33 others operate under their own DBAs in six states. Those practices range in size from a single financial professional working from home to the Trendency Group in Columbus, Ohio, that supports 10 financial professionals. The entire firm has about $750 million in assets under management.
Having always kept direct involvement in the firm’s accounting and budgeting, Hais said he was prepared for the expenses associated with growth. He also maintained a close working relationship with his broker-dealer, continually assessing cost and profitability to ensure they stayed on track with his growth plans.
As more financial professionals from across the region came on board, improving the lines of communication became a higher priority. Consequently, Hais implemented a range of solutions to keep in touch and increase opportunities for collaboration, including regular on-site visits, a quarterly conference call and an annual two-day branch meeting that combines education and entertainment.
“When you have financial professionals in six states and 25 locations, it’s important to make them feel like they’re part of the group,” Hais said. “We try to pick a place where we can keep them together in the evening. That camaraderie is important; financial professionals in different offices don’t start to feel like they’re an island.”
For any OSJ or branch manager looking to take their firm to the next level, Hais recommends building strong relationships with recruiters and honing the sales presentation that will be used when pitching the firm to prospects.
“You have to develop some message to recruits, have a good value proposition and have your elevator speech down,” he said.