Branch managers who bring a personal vision and value into their leadership have an opportunity to create more impact in their office environments. Take for example, Frank Chou, a market manager for Wells Fargo Advisors in Short Hills, N.J. Chou describes his role as manager as “leaving a legacy.” He explains, “I want to bring out the best in people and I will hold them accountable. I ask them to hold me accountable, too.”

Chou’s goal is building a partnership with his advisors, looking beyond business to forge a relationship that works in symbiosis with the best client experience. Chou’s approach was forged when he moved to the U.S. without his family at 16 from Taiwan. He didn’t know a word of English and had no choice but to form relationships with mentors who helped him find his direction, which contributed to his drive to succeed.

Chou says he wants to extend the same opportunity and mentorship to both his personal and professional life. Chou’s personal values not only reflect his goal to make an impact on people, but in his creative approaches to the client experience for his advisors. One creative event was at a Tesla dealership where advisors were able to invite their clients for a test drive. In other cases, he’ll support his advisors with their own special events.

Not every advisor wants to have an interactive relationship with their branch manager. In fact, “I’m happy because my branch manager leaves me alone,” is something I’ve heard hundreds of times. Some long-term advisors I spoke with have had 10-plus managers in their tenure, learning not to rely on the revolving door.

One story of frustration was not one of absentee managers, but managers who only talk in “manager speak” or who are bogged down with the requirements of compliance and other issues essential to maintaining a branch. Another advisor I spoke to didn’t think there was much value in an interactive manager and said it was risky to be too friendly, preferring instead to converse with his colleagues for fresh ideas.

TAKING THE PRESSURE OFF

One branch manager I spoke to, who requested anonymity citing compliance reasons, makes himself available to his advisors at the same time every day for one hour, walking around the office without an agenda except to be of service. This strategy not only takes the pressure off his advisors that he is coming to check on them, but also gives them an opportunity to know that he’s available to talk.

A million-dollar advisor I spoke to at Merrill Lynch, who also asked not to be named, stated, “I wish I had a manager who would stop playing defense.” He mentioned that in his 20-plus years in the business, he had yet to find a manager who proactively engaged in the exchange of ideas or even actively brainstormed about how to grow his business. Although this advisor is successful from a numbers standpoint, he wished that pure financial results weren’t the only important part of the conversation. He felt like his business could be even more successful with proactive input from his branch manager. This advisor described wanting the same degree of personalization that he works hard to give to his clients. And not surprisingly, he still vehemently denied he wanted to move.

VISUALIZING THE FUTURE

What seems like common sense is still something that is being executed by the very best managers who understand looking beyond the numbers and personalizing the experience for each advisor.

When a branch manager or internal coaching wasn’t enough, a few advisors I spoke to have sought executive coaching services and paid for it personally and found fresh perspectives.

While much of what the coaching provided was consultative, one advisor described what he called the “fluffy” part — learning how to make things personal and to speak from the heart.

This advisor described visualizing his future business so he could develop a plan to create it. This seemed like an epiphany and shows another way a manager could contribute to an advisor’s experience.

Leadership coach Tatiana Lyons of Your Creativity Leads describes the experience as: “When you treat someone as your long-term partner, you learn what’s important to them, what motivates, drives and inspires them. You create an ongoing relationship that provides true value.”

If branch managers are doing this, then an environment is created that promotes both ideas and longevity. It’s essential to create this environment authentically. Granted, there are directives at the top because the financial services industry is a business of high profitability; however, only ticking off all the necessary boxes is a disservice to the job. 

In addition to necessary functions of maintaining a branch, managers must be experts at troubleshooting as well as finding time to engage in interaction that can potentially stimulate ideas and support.

Managers who are required to produce also have the challenge of properly allocating their time efficiently and productively.

AUGMENTING STRENGTH

When I spoke with branch manager Jay Berube of UBS Financial Services in Buffalo, N.Y., he became excited as he described his role as “advisor to the advisor.”

He says, “My only agenda is helping to improve the business of my advisors.” With countless training courses under his belt, Berube describes his focus as evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of his financial advisors.

For example, an advisor might be highly skilled with philanthropic giving and saving, but weaker with growth. The trick, Berube says, is to recognize that weaknesses won’t go away or turn into strengths, but there are ways to “make your weaknesses palatable, while maximizing your strengths.”

Most importantly, Berube says he didn’t become a branch manager simply to tell people what to do, but to embrace his core philosophy of service by truly helping advisors get to their next level. Berube realizes people are different and figuring out what makes them tick is how he finds joy in his work.

Managers leading from their core philosophy or personal values perspective exude passion and enthusiasm. Firms provide tools to help educate managers, but if leadership is only coming from a directive, the inauthentic nature is unpalatable.

The most successful managers are going beyond pure training and management directives. Creating a positive environment of service to their advisors, rather than being solely a slave to the numbers, allows everyone involved a chance to succeed. 

Elizabeth McCourt is a contributing writer for On Wall Street and senior vice president at Renaissance Unlimited of Southampton, N.Y.

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