WealthManagement Magazine

Competing Against a Colossus

Imagine working down the hall from one of the advisors on this list. Great, right? You'd try to suck in the air of the culture of excellence emanating from that corner office and remake yourself into a big hitter, right? In fact, a rep who spoke to us on the condition that his real name, firm (a wirehouse) and location not be printed, actually works down the corridor from someone on this list. I'm

Imagine working down the hall from one of the advisors on this list. Great, right? You'd try to suck in the air of the “culture of excellence” emanating from that corner office and remake yourself into a big hitter, right?

In fact, “Jack,” a rep who spoke to us on the condition that his real name, firm (a wirehouse) and location not be printed, actually works down the corridor from someone on this list. “I'm hurt by his success,” Jack says of the “600-pound gorilla” (his words) who works in the corner office in his branch.

Jack complains that the mega-producing gorilla makes life impossible for everyone else. This colleague (if that's the right word) generates around half of the branch's gross revenues and yet gobbles up 80 percent of the branch's piece of the syndicate (such as new equity issues); further, the top producer has a company support and an expense account rigged to ensure that he remains at the center of power in his community. “He takes clients and prospects on private jets to go golfing,” Jack grouses. “Every rich person I know in the area already has an account with him.”

Sure, it's good to be the king, but what about everyone else? Fact is, life for other reps working in the shadow of a colossus isn't easy. In fact, it's sometimes downright impossible.

“You should not mix 600-pound gorillas with small producers,” says André Cappon, a principal at CBM Group, a consultancy in New York. “They should be in small offices advising smaller clients. It's not good to mix mediocre brokers with big producers. The bar is too high. Any kind of standard is valuable only if you have a chance of reaching the standard.”

At the same time, the outlook isn't entirely bleak. Grabbing your share of the pie means some hard work and a willingness to think outside the box. If you have the money to travel, one possibility is to expand your territory to an area “not dominated by the guy,” says Stewart Lee, CEO of Lee Training in Wellston, Okla., which runs training programs for major producers and branch managers. “If you live in a place where there's no water, you move to where the water is.” It's best to pick a growing affluent community with a large influx of new residents. (Check out home sales, for one thing). Once you pick your place, then try everything you can to get involved with the community, doing charity work, holding seminars, attending Chamber of Commerce meetings. In fact, it's a good idea to do the same thing in your local area, especially with activities likely to give you entrée to newcomers who haven't yet fallen under the spell of your rival.

If you don't want to venture too far from the nest, then you have to figure out a market to target that your competitor isn't in. Two years ago, when Rick Nummi started working as a rep for Gunn Allen Financial in Tampa, Fla., he quickly realized there was one person who accounted for 50 percent to 60 percent of production. He eventually discovered an association aimed at senior citizens that no one — including the big rep — had ever contacted. So, he approached them and, from there, developed a niche. “You either cry and howl, or figure out a different angle to your business,” he says.

Lee points to a rep in St. Louis who realized that the big producer in his branch had no clients connected to the agricultural industry. “You'd go eight miles out of town, and nobody would know him,” he says. So, the rep started advertising in local publications, attending meetings of farm co-ops and meeting local farmers. Within 10 months, he had captured “millions of dollars of accounts” among farmers and equipment suppliers.

And don't dismiss the idea of approaching the top reps directly. “Say the most powerful four words, ‘I need your help,’” says Lee. Then, tell the individuals you admire their work and want to learn some of their secrets. Says Tibby De Julio, a branch manager with A.G. Edwards in Sandy Springs, Ga.: “A large producer usually has a big ego and will be willing to help.”

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