Registered Rep.: You were named about three years ago to lead a product sales drive to fee-based RIAs. How did that come about?
Catherine Saunders: Coming from Fidelity, (CEO Bob Reynolds) experienced firsthand what the RIA channel is all about, the growth it's seen in the past, and the growth that it's expecting. In order to be a major player in this space, you have to dedicate more resources to it.
RR: How's business?
CS: In 2009, we did about $70 million in sales. Last year we did almost $1 billion in sales of mutual funds to RIAs. We started by hiring five regional investment consultants. That phrasing is by design; we don't call them wholesalers. This is a very consultative-based business. We view our meetings with advisors very much like a consultant visiting a client.
RR: But their role is still to sell, yes?
CS: They're there to distribute product. The way we get access to distributing product is by providing thought leadership and deep investment content, not only on specific products but also in the capital markets, etc.
Different language is spoken in the RIA channel. RIAs don't do trades, they make allocations. It sounds like it's only a word, but with an RIA, if you're not speaking the same language, it's extremely noticeable. And they'll make choices on who they'll allow in their offices on whether or not you understand the nature of their business.
RR: How do breakaways who go RIA figure into this?
CS: If we've got a wholesaler who's been calling on a Merrill Lynch advisor for a decade and that advisor goes to HighTower, we're going to have that same wholesaler from the retail space continue coverage of that RIA at HighTower. We are not a siloed organization.