(Phoenix) Commonwealth Financial Network advisors seem to be taking a measured approach to the present financial crisis. And that means they were quite keen to listen, take notes and share ideas during the group's recent national conference, which took place in October at the J.W. Marriott Desert Ridge complex.
Managing Principal Wayne Bloom welcomed the 660 advisors and 645 other guests attending the event by reminding them that the broker-dealer's theme for 2008 is "evolving with change, even when that change is shocking."
"This is when your clients need you," explains Bloom, who is in charge of wealth management and based in the firm's Waltham, Mass., offices. "This is when you earn your pay, and we've been in overdrive to help you in the crisis."
Despite the market conditions, "Many individual practices are having record years," he says. "And the flight to quality is an opportunity of a lifetime."
As of August 31, the firm says its advisors have achieved:o A 7 percent increase in gross revenues, year over year;o A 22 percent jump in advisory fees;o A 14 percent improvement in mutual-fund sales; ando A 13 percent increase in fixed-income sales.
The support for advisors affiliated with Commonwealth Financial stands in marked contrast to the results of a survey from Prince & Associates, which found that 81 percent of investors with $1 million or more in investable assets plan to take money away from their current advisor, the Wall Street Journal reports.
"We urge you to capitalize on this unprecedented opportunity," concludes Bloom.
Speaker Frank Kelly of Deutsche Bank's government-affairs department spoke about the elections. He mentioned that while some taxpayers want to get rid of the alternative minimum tax, Congress may be reluctant to do so because of the associated drop in revenues; still, some offsetting surcharges are being discussed, he says. There will also be further oversight of 401(k) plans.
More change is sure to be in store for the SEC and Federal Reserve, notes Kelly. "Shouldn't the government consider letting the market solve some of the problems at hand?," he asks. "Why not super-size the FDIC?"
Meanwhile, Commonwealth executives are hoping to super-size their recruiting efforts as turmoil in the markets and on Wall Street has left some advisors and wirehouse employees re-examining their career options.
"There is a lot of movement in the industry," explains Commonwealth Chairman and CEO Joe Deitch. "The small but steady stream of wirehouse brokers going independent has become a rush for the door as most of the stalwarts disappear and or change radically. While it still remains to be seen how many make it through to the other side and where they go," he adds, "it's definitely a major sea change."
Deitch also wants to be sure Commonwealth takes advantage of any and all staffing opportunities as tens of thousands of professionals are let go.
And John Rooney, a managing principal with the firm's San Diego operations, is there to support such efforts. He's also working with existing FAs who are gaining a foothold in their own markets. "As one advisor said to me, 'Just be famous within your own 20-mile radius.' That makes you the pre-eminent advisor, the top brand in the market. And when our advisors do that, it helps us block and tackle."
In a down market, Rooney explains, the Commonwealth brand has been consistent. That's helped the firm go from meeting say, one $10 million producer at Merrill Lynch per quarter, to visiting with around seven such FAs a week, he says.
"I'd say this is a wonderful time to be in the independent channel," shares Rooney.
And Andrew Daniels, managing principal of field development, concurs. "At this time, we really have a very compelling story."
Advisor David Root Jr. sees the current scenario more as "opportunity under fire." "Such market opportunities only come around every 10 years or more," Root explains, "when there's a total reshuffling of the deck."
Root, who leads a 16-member planning firm in Pittsburgh, says he has worked with clients such as small business owners to form defensive portfolios for the past seven or eight years. "As a businessperson myself, I understand what's best in terms of cash flows and what their anxieties are."
To keep its client relationships as strong as possible in such tough times, "We shower them with service and do plenty of hand holding. That way clients can say, 'When I really needed my advisor, he or she was there for me and was proactive.'"
To ensure that its 1,100-plus advisors are doing just that for existing clients while reaching out to new clients, "We are working overtime," says Deitch.
Janet Levaux, MBA/MA, is the managing editor of Research; reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.