Opinions vary greatly about the potential new FINRA disclosure rules. While some recruiters and managers alike are howling for even greater transparency of an advisor's book, others like myself believe that it's a total invasion of a person's privacy and will actively hurt those who have built their careers in the brokerage business.
Wanting to see what Main Street has to say about its brokers' potential large payouts and bonuses, I took to my own backyard in downtown Jersey City, N.J., to find out what investing residents had to say about these large bonuses. I checked with people in my neighborhood who typically have more than $1 million in investable assets, but are fairly unfamiliar with how the recruiting game works. They are your potential clients and, in some cases, are your clients. While their thoughts vary greatly, they are all directly related to general investment philosophies, what their returns have been and how much you are a part of their community.
Jack is a state-employed attorney, 62 years old. His local real estate holdings are vast, with a market value of more than $8 million, including a 30-unit rental building in the area His investable assets are more than $2 million.
When I asked Jack what he thinks about the bonuses and the proposed disclosure rules, he said, "I question the overall value these people offer. If I want to pay somebody $30,000, it's for a super to manage one or all of my buildings. I see tangible value with a super, not a guy that's selling me insurance and funds. I have an account with a guy at (a smaller boutique firm). The account is okay, and I guess I would transfer with him if he asked me. I don't see too many fees related to the account, but if I did, it may be different. I don't think he makes that much anyhow."
When I ran a brief check on Jack's advisor, it came up that he probably makes around $200,000 a year and is a $300,000 producer at an independent firm. When it comes down to it, Jack's investment philosophy is more in line with real estate, and the intangible aspects of brokerage accounts makes him feel uncomfortable. His investment philosophy probably isn't going to change whether his advisor changes firms or not.
Betty is an internist at the local medical facility. She has been in practice for 13 years and has both her 401(k) and profit-sharing plans through an advisor in the city. She generally doesn't read the mail from her financial advisor, but simply looks to see that her account is up. And if the return is looking good and the balance is higher than before, she's happy. When asked if she would sign the transfer papers even after she received word that so much money had changed hands, she said yes.
"Overall he's doing a good job guiding us in the right direction. While I recognize that the whole market is up, I'm specifically up over 15% this year and am quite happy with this return. I can't get that from the bank and don't have time to be on E-Trade all day. I'd prefer a professional handle these things so I can concentrate on my practice." To me, Betty seems like the ideal client to have.
Jerry is the proprietor of multiple successful restaurants in the area. He's pretty diversified in his investments, but also realizes that a lot of his regular patrons are Wall Street types. "I've gotten so much good advice from my brokers over the years that I would be hard pressed to get rid of my people." (I think he has four different accounts in all.)
Jerry's returns are quite high, and he says that even in down markets he is well hedged and wouldn't be able to do this without these long-term relationships. Jerry trusts that his guys will do the right thing and although a couple of them have moved in the past, it had no effect on their relationship. "Why would I begrudge someone for making a better life for themselves and their family? Last time I heard it was okay to make money when you are a productive individual. That's how it's supposed to work. I want to deal with people who are like me and actually make and put money into our economy."
When it comes down to it, Main Street clients are all different. Although new transparency rules can make moving a daunting thought, remember that most clients who are happy with their advisors don't really care. The more exposure your clients have to you as a person and member of their community, the more valuable you become. The better returns on investments you have for your clients, the more of a valuable expert you are. And ultimately, successful people want to do business with other successful people, so don't be afraid of that check, embrace it!
Carri Degenhardt-Burke runs Degenhardt Consulting in Jersey City, N.J.
For further information, call 201-395-0222 or visit www.degenhardtconsulting.com.