Is Anyone Listening to You?

Getting management to listen to your concerns and suggestions can seem frustrating. Whether your issues are about offering new products to clients or obtaining the right technology to run your business, it can appear that the people running the firm have turned a deaf ear.Heres one example. A former Everen Securities broker says top management at the firm pulled the plug on a popular program--despite

Getting management to listen to your concerns and suggestions can seem frustrating. Whether your issues are about offering new products to clients or obtaining the right technology to run your business, it can appear that the people running the firm have turned a deaf ear.

Heres one example. A former Everen Securities broker says top management at the firm pulled the plug on a popular program--despite broker protests. The program--a tax-credit fund run through Boston Capital--invested in affordable housing for the elderly. He claims many brokers and their clients liked the investment vehicle because it provided a dollar-for-dollar reduction in tax liability.

It was a hot item. I had clients who wanted to get more tax credits, he says. But management didnt want to pay somebody to watch over the program in the home office. Brokers kept pushing for it, but we were told we couldnt sell it any longer.

Just how do brokers get what they want from their firms?

Unfortunately, some reps say the only negotiating leverage they have is threatening to leave. Lacking a unified body to present their concerns to management, they say theyre forced to go one on one with their branch managers in fragmented haggling sessions.

The only tool weve had to get a good deal is to jump ship and disrupt our clients, says a second-generation broker with a regional firm. Thats not a service to our clients. We need a better voice.

But ironically, staying with a firm, keeping your nose clean and building a client base might be better ways to ensure your voice is heard. Other methods to increase your influence include participating in meetings and polishing your relationships with managers (see Seven Tips for Managing Up, right).

A 14-year veteran with PaineWebber who is a member of the Presidents Club and handles more than $130 million in assets says his longevity carries weight. It has a lot more validity when I pick up the phone and want something done, he says. The longer youve been there, the more it is this way.

This broker says he and his partner were able to form a subconsulting group, and ram it through compliance in three days, due to their tenure and clean U-4s.

I can call three levels down from [CEO] Don Marron within management and ask questions that other people wouldnt even get a phone call returned. I will ask anybody anything, he says.

What About Average Reps?But if youre not a top producer or dont have tenure with your firm, you may feel like your input doesnt matter. The former Everen broker says many average reps feel left out of the loop.

The firm will take the top producers, put them together and take them to a nice resort to talk about [various issues]. ... Some solutions may be great, but they never seem to reach the [average] broker, in terms of changes, he says.

Others disagree. A.G. Edwards producing manager Rich Miller in Fort Wayne, Ind., says his firm has two official ways of gathering input from brokers. One way is that top producers qualify for sales trips and take part in discussions with management. And the other is through regional sales meetings, in which all brokers can attend and have access to a panel of senior execs.

You can still make your voice heard, even if you dont qualify for elite sales trips, Miller says.

Minneapolis-based Dain Rauscher is also listening to its average reps. Marcia Hansen, communications and policy manager for the private client group, says the firm picks brokers for its 12-member Broker Advisory Council every three years. The selection is based on recommendations from regional managers and includes brokers of all production levels.

While the council meets officially four times a year and gives input on firm initiatives, brokers are free to call management directly at any time on any subject--and usually do, Hansen says.

Brokers at our firm are not shy, Hansen says. We really have an open-door communication policy. People feel free to call people and talk to them about their concerns.

Can Reps Make a Difference?While Hansen says brokers dont always get their way, their input does have impact. For instance, during the recent launch of Dain Rauscher Connect, Hansen received an e-mail from a broker who was dissatisfied with the demo.

The broker wanted to show Dain Rauscher Connect at a seminar, but the sample account the firm used was not representative of his average client. He had a very high-net-worth clientele, Hansen says. He wanted to have a more meaningful example.

So Hansen worked with the department that created the program in putting together a new sample account for higher-net-worth clients.

My point is we listen, Hansen says. Why do we listen? Brokers are on the frontline dealing with our clients every single day.

Miller says reps input made a difference this year when A.G. Edwards revamped its compensation plan and decided not to pay out on smaller trades of less than $45. Reps pointed out an inconsistency in that the minimum commission charge was $42. The policy was soon changed to only pay out on trades of $42 or more.

Miller says the fact that A.G. Edwards does not have competing divisions makes management more accessible to brokers and clients.

Were a retail-oriented brokerage firm, attuned to putting clients needs first, Miller says. You can call Mr. Edwards directly. Hell answer his own phone as do other executives. But at some firms, Miller adds, You cant even get a margin clerk on the phone, let alone the president of the company.

1) Maintain a clean compliance record.

Management is more likely to listen to reps with untarnished U-4s. Approaching your branch manager at the earliest sign of trouble with a client can help you avoid problems.

2) Dont be a firm hopper.

Hopping from firm to firm decreases your credibility. Some brokers are finding that the advantages of staying outweigh the advantages of moving.

3) Attend regional sales meetings.

Heres your chance to mingle with senior management, department heads and other brokers. You can find out if your problem is unique or if others confront the same issue.

4) Contact your broker-representative.

Usually members of firms broker advisory councils have constituencies to whom they are responsible. Let the people who represent you know your concerns.

5) Lobby to become a regional broker representative.

If your firm has a council, talk to your branch manager or regional director about becoming a member of the panel. Senior management often gathers input from broker panels in rolling out new programs, broker workstations and comp plans.

6) Develop a good working relationship with your branch manager.

The BOM is the first link in your connection with the firm, and his or her pull with upper management can add power to your ideas.

7) Call department heads or senior managers.

If you cant get a satisfactory answer from your manager, call the home office head of the area youre concerned about. You may be surprised when he or she answers the phone.

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