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Edward Jones Wants to 'Deeply Serve' End Clients

Edward Jones has traditionally measured its growth by the number of advisors on its platform; now it wants to focus more on growing clients’ assets by expanding its services.

Nearly century-old brokerage Edward Jones has long measured its growth by its number of advisors, and in fact, it is the largest brokerage by that measurement. Its growth goals have also followed that line of thinking, with a stated target of 20,000 and eventually 30,000 advisors. It ended 2018 with 17,614 advisors, and a senior executive said the firm is ahead of schedule to increase that by 1,047 this year.

But going forward, that won’t be the only way Edward Jones measures growth. The brokerage will measure growth by new client assets under care as well as how “deeply served” a client is by their advisor. In other words, it wants to increase clients’ wallet share.

The firm uses an internal measurement to determine clients who are “deeply served,” defined by the number of documented goals in the system for a client, the risk tolerance that’s been captured, the frequency of reviews for that client, and whether the client’s goals have been protected in the event the unexpected happens.

It has a stated goal to have 4 million “deeply served” clients, under no specific time frame. Ken Cella, head of the firm’s client strategist group, would not say how many clients are currently in this category, but the firm is on track to increase the current number by 10% this year. (Cella reports to Penny Pennington, the brokerage's first woman managing partner; recently profiled her.)  

Of course, growing client assets on the platform (what Edward Jones calls “client assets under care”) is also a big goal. It had $1.1 trillion in client assets as of the end of 2018, and it expects to add $141 billion this year. Longer term, it has a stated goal to reach $1.5 trillion.

The shift is part of a larger effort to emphasize client centricity, which Cella defines as “thinking like our clients, not just about them.” And the firm is allocating a significant amount of time and resources to that end. Cella, who started at the firm as an intern, oversees the group responsible for everything that touches end clients, from the advice and guidance it puts out on investments to marketing.

“As we look forward, what we’re really focused on is how we continue to grow the number of advisors serving clients, but really more fully expand our definition of growth to include growth of clients—not just number of clients but growth in depth of how we serve our clients,” Cella said.

To deepen those relationships, the brokerage is doubling down on the human-centered aspect of advice.

The firm plans to deepen its client relationships in two ways, the first being emotional intelligence, or EQ.

“The way we talk about it is, emotional intelligence, in relation to the client experience, is helping clients feel understood, informed, in control and secure about their future,” Cella said.

The firm is putting processes in place for branch managers to deliver on that. For example, the firm is building a prototype of a tool called the Values Prioritizer, which will ask clients a series of questions to get at the two or three things that are most valuable to them in retirement.  

“As they go through those questions, they’ll be making value judgments about what’s most important to them,” Cella said.

The firm also plans to go deeper with clients by building out a more complete set of wealth management services. Most people know Edward Jones as an investment firm. But the firm is increasingly focused on “protecting clients’ goals” through insurance. Payments and lending present another big opportunity for the firm, Cella said. It also plans to help more clients with legacy and estate planning.

Edward Jones may not be able to provide those services, but it can at least be a referral source.

“Where our industry needs to go—and where we’re going to try to lead—is to really get a bit more into how do we help our clients with those deeper decisions.”

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