WealthManagement.com.: You’ve mentioned in the past the importance of making the client experience simpler. What do you mean?
Mary Mack: There are a couple of things to that. One of them, in a big way, is simplifying the way we deliver, the way we inform clients, the way we ensure they understand, and even the way they sign. We introduced this year a consolidated signature page. We took out unnecessary disclosures. We also just rolled out e-signature for clients, across all of our channels.
WM: How is WFA’s SmartStation 2.0 migration going?
MM: I think we just completed the last phase of rollouts. We just did probably our biggest platform upgrade—certainly outside of a merger. And we did it without training, because it’s so intuitive. Along the way, we’ve also had to go through a systematic upgrade of bandwidth and some systematic infrastructure improvements that have gone really well in terms of speed of delivery, easy navigation and execution.
WM: What is the timeline for rolling out the expected Smart to Go tablet app? What is that going to be like for the advisor?
MM: The full rollout is slated for the second quarter of next year. It will enable an FA to lock down the client data so that they can do a more dynamic client presentation on their tablet. It will give them the most-frequently used applications in a truly mobile format.
WM: What’s been Wells’ approach with its high-net-worth partnership referral program between the banking and brokerage channels? How does Wells’ strategy differ from other firms in this space?
MM: The strategy here is very client-centric, advice-driven. The client deserves access to the best we have to offer across our firm. We began to think about the private bank as not just a relationship manager—which is what they do for many clients—but also as a product provider. We asked, “How can those private bankers provide customized banking product to a Wells Fargo advisor’s relationship?”
WM: How do you address advisor concerns about handing off their clients to private bankers?
MM: Advisors have an incredible amount of passion for their client relationships. I love that. We’ve said that it’s your client relationship. We’re not asking anybody to hand off a client to anybody. Instead, you’re bringing somebody in as a member of your team. You’re still the quarterback of that team, the financial coach for your client, but you bring somebody into your team to add to a relationship, as opposed to turn over a relationship.
WM: WFA doesn’t offer as rich of a recruitment compensation package as some of its competitors. Why is that?
MM: What we try to do is talk to a financial advisor about the entire value proposition, with the transition bonus being just one part of it. I believe another part of that is the tremendous value in the brand. To be associated with the Wells Fargo brand has a real tangible value that we can demonstrate to a recruit.
WM: No plans to bring that in line with other firms and the checks they’re cutting?
MM: We’ve looked at it and we track it. There are no plans, necessarily, to change ours in response to that, because we’re really pleased with our results if you look at the whole. Don’t get me wrong, I think that transition bonus is very important to financial advisors, but it’s one element of a broader relationship.
WM: Raymond James seems to be targeting WFA for potential recruits. What is your strategy to address this?
MM: I would say, in terms of recruiting, one of the things we’ve been working a lot on is the development and empowerment of our managers. A lot of what financial advisors are looking for is the support of their local manager. So how do we empower our managers? We’ve just added another region. We think that enables our regional leaders to have more interaction with FAs. They still have large regions, but they’re smaller than they were to enable them to be closer to the field, closer to complexes, closer to the FAs. That’s one of our best retention strategies—that we have great managers.
WM: You’ve said the traditional methods of incentivizing and motivating NextGen recruits are not working. How is the firm bringing in the next generation of advisors?
MM: We’re piloting some different ways of training. This year we’re getting ready to start the third class in the associated financial advisors program. It’s more of a mentorship program that’s a combination of St. Louis-based classroom training and then curriculum-based field training. The formal curriculum will be at least two years, longer than our traditional financial-advisor-in-training program, which was only about seven weeks. In addition, the program provides an apprenticeship model ensuring that every associate is paired with an experienced, successful advisor. Each associated financial advisor has a dedicated performance coach who provides accountability, oversight and support throughout their development. They receive two to three years of a stable salary, along with the ability to increase their compensation through revenue-sharing opportunities.
WM: How big is the associated financial advisor pilot program?
MM: We will hire a total of 100 this year that are in pilot, and are targeting 100 or more next year. That’s just one element of our training. We’ve still got our other financial advisor training going on.
Then there's another program that David Kowach is starting in the Private Client Group (PCG) branches. Advisors who are evaluating their business and thinking about how they begin to rationalize their book to a more manageable client base can work with another Advisor (even Trainees skilled in Best Practices) who are looking to add clients. Ultimately, the goal should be an improved client experience, one where the Advisors, both the one looking to transfer the account and the other looking to take on more clients, accomplish their goals too.”
WM: There’s been ongoing discussion regarding WFA’s hybrid legacy profit formula model, that has actually been discontinued but under which some advisors still operate. What is the firm planning to do with these advisors?
MM: Many of our really successful financial advisors in the private client group are in profit formula. Profit formula is a part of PCG. It’s not a separate business. It’s populated with many of our best practice advisors, our highest growth advisors, so it’s a successful part. It’s been supported as a part of the private client group, and continues to be supported. We have no plans to shut it down.
WM: Will there be any kind of hybrid offering for new teams that are interested?
MM: We want to continue to support the advisors who are in profit formula because they’re terrific advisors. There wasn’t any plan to change that element. But if we’re looking at what advisors are looking for, we need to ask if there are solutions already in our existing channels. We have a lot of conversations, between PCG and FiNet, to see if that’s a better fit.
WM: With Devon McConnell coming aboard as head of WFA Digital, how is that helping to evolve the firm's technology?
MM: We are really excited to have Devon. Right now, she's doing a lot of direct client research. What do full service clients expect in their relationship with their advisor? How are other influences in other parts of their lives now begun to impact the way they think about their digital financial experience? As we go into next year, you'll begin to see those similar impacts on the client side of technology. They notice now the service experience through their advisor's ability to more quickly deliver. What we'd like to see is for them to see their advisor through digital technology.
WM: Speaking of digital, Wells Fargo had a pilot program for Twitter and social media. Are there plans to continue that? What’s up next for the firm in that area?
MM: We have been running a pilot, a Twitter pilot, a social media pilot. We've got plans to expand that infrastructure, things that we need to look at. We've got to think about it as an industry: how do we think about retention and capture in the social media space differently? It goes back to that digital experience. I really think that it's not just a generational thing. There is a prevalence of it as the generations get younger. We have certainly thought of technology as functional. Now, we've got to begin thinking of technology as relational, and that's very different from the way our industry has interacted in the past.
WM: You’ve been busy in this first year, visiting branch offices on an almost weekly basis. What do you do during your downtime?
MM: I'm training for a half‑marathon for some crazy reason. It started on a dare. I work out with a couple of friends, and they did it. I told them they were crazy. I decided that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all.
WM: What's the most played song on your playlist?
MM: Do you know what I listen to? I listen to podcasts. What I listen to is The Bob and Sheri Show, which is a syndicated radio talk show out of Charlotte. I listen, every morning, to yesterday's podcast.