Raymond James & Associates has had notable recruiting successes in the past year. But the firm is facing many of the same challenges that its industry rivals are: digital robo upstarts, aging advisor ranks and the constant struggle to maintain a culture. Here, Raymond James President Tash Elwyn discusses how the firm is addressing those challenges, from upgrading digital services to having the right cultural mindset.

HOW ARE YOU MEETING THE INCREASED DEMAND FROM CLIENTS FOR DIGITAL SERVICES?

Recent examples of where we have strengthened the technology platform are [goal planning and monitoring software], data aggregation in which clients have the ability to link together different financial accounts through the secure client website, eSignature, and vaulting — the ability to store electronic documents within our client website. All that is designed to continue to offer clients more access to information.

And it's all being invested and designed with the intent of liberating the financial advisor's role.

Lastly, another key area where Raymond James has been quite successful and pioneering is our embracement and support of social media. It's a great example of where client preferences may be changing in terms of how they want to engage and consume advice, but what is ever present is the desire to get that information through their financial advisor.

ADVISORS OFTEN CITE THE FIRM'S CULTURE IN EXPLAINING THEIR MOVE TO RAYMOND JAMES. HOW DO YOU ENSURE THE CULTURE STAYS THE SAME EVEN AS THE ADVISOR RANKS EXPAND?

One of the chief complaints that I hear, particularly from wirehouse advisors, is that "my branch manager has been neutered and can no longer make any business decisions."

As we continue to focus on staying small while growing bigger, we are committed to supporting our branch managers as local leaders with the ability and autonomy to make business decisions in support of their advisors and their advisors' clients.

When you compare strong autonomous local leadership and the broader group of Raymond James, we are able to maintain a strong recipe for continued success and a compelling value proposition for our financial advisors.

DO YOU WORRY MAINTAINING THAT CULTURE WILL BE MORE DIFFICULT AS YOU BECOME MUCH BIGGER?

I think back to a comment from a wirehouse advisor who is now affiliated with us. His comment was that it wasn't necessarily the size of his wirehouse that caused him discomfort, it was how the leadership at the firm thought and how they approached his clients.

He said, "As long as Raymond James continues to think the way you do, I am confident that you can continue to protect the culture." I think he's right. Culture is a state of mind. It's not necessarily driven by size. We embrace that.

WHY HAVE YOUR RIVALS EVOLVED DIFFERENTLY?

It's a vastly different philosophical view in terms [of] how best to manage and invest in this business. I've heard leaders of other firms in our profession comment that a can of Coke should taste identical, no matter where in the country it is consumed. Although I grew up in Atlanta and I am a huge fan of Coke, I take offense at that comment being applied to this profession. We believe every advisor is unique, every client is unique and the delivery of advice should be unique. This should not be a financial-services factory.

IS RAYMOND JAMES MAKING SUFFICIENT EFFORTS TO BRING FRESH BLOOD INTO A BUSINESS WHERE THE ADVISOR RANKS ARE GRAYING?

I believe so. We are absolutely committed to investing in the foundation of training, with a focus on succession planning and coaching for our veteran advisors, so that those advisors will ensure their clients are well-served for generations to come. We also want them to have the opportunity to recognize the equity in the business that they have built up. 

So I'm confident the pairing of our culture of advisor choice and book ownership with our expertise and investments in succession planning and next-generation advisor training has Raymond James not only well-positioned but uniquely positioned to capitalize on advisor demographics as an opportunity instead of a threat to the business.

WHY IS BOOK OWNERSHIP AND THE ABILITY TO EFFECTIVELY SELL THE BOOK IMPORTANT?

We recognize the advisor's role in this business and their ability to envision, pair with and help successors serve the clients. It positions our firm as the firm of choice for those advisors who have not yet affiliated with us, and Raymond James as having a long-term interest in the advisor's well-being.

SO THIS IS PARTIALLY ABOUT ADVISORS BEING ABLE TO GET EQUITY OUT OF THE LONG-TERM FRUITS OF THEIR LABOR?

Yes, absolutely. This focus that Raymond James has in being advisor-centric [and] our expertise in succession planning further positions us as the firm to retire from, or the firm to move to and subsequently retire from. It's an important component of our ability to recruit successfully.

Advisors value choice and support. Raymond James provides both.

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