The allure of a six-figure upfront recruitment bonus is virtually impossible for many brokers to resist, so it's not unusual that many switch firms during the course of their careers.
It is unusual, however, for brokers not to succumb to those bonuses and remain at the same firm for their entire career, a span covering 30 to 40 years.
Brokers who stick around for more than a quarter century are a rare breed indeed, so we tracked down a trio of these long-timers to uncover their personal stories.
For the most part, their reasons for staying put are similar: Clients are comfortable with a broker who has been at the same firm for a long period of time. And the firms they work for respect them and reward them well.
King of Longevity Michael King, Dain Rauscher, Fort Worth, Texas
The day Michael King decided to become a stockbroker, he made a vow. "The first firm that hires me," he told himself, "is the firm I'm going to stay with for my entire career and give them everything I've got."
More than 34 years later, King's promise is still good. On Feb. 19, King will celebrate his 35th year with Dain Rauscher in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
King, 59, has had the opportunity to jump to other firms about 15 times, but each time he rejected the overtures--and the money.
"I've never once said to myself, 'I wish I knew what else was out there,'" he says. "It's in my personality to be consistent, loyal and to stay in one place. I'm obsessive. I like everything in the same spot.
"Just going across the street and reorganizing everything blows my mind away," King says. "I couldn't do it. Rejecting those offers to jump may not be such a wise business decision in other people's minds, but this situation fits me perfectly."
It's perfect because King enjoys the environment at a smaller firm like Dain. He also likes the idea of calling CEO Irv Weiser on a whim, any day, any time.
"You could never do that at a bigger firm," King says.
Of course, King also likes Dain's 45 percent payout, higher than wirehouses, he says. That makes resisting bonus offers that much easier. "There's always attrition in your client base whenever you move. I've seen it," he adds.
King says his business (1,250 clients with 154 million dollars in assets) wouldn't be as big if he'd moved around. Once you figure in taxes on bonus money, plus lost business, "you can make a case that it equals out if you stay where you are."
King says his vow to remain at one firm for his entire career sends the right message to his clients. "Clients want someone who's stable," he says. "When a broker moves around, he not only is faced with having to transfer clients, but he has to re-win them, and that makes them feel uncomfortable."
The Personal Touch Rebecca Castardo-Jones, A.G. Edwards, Ormond Beach, Fla.
When Rebecca Castardo-Jones first joined A.G. Edwards, she found herself in an important meeting with some company executives. She felt lost, invisible. Then one of the executives referred to her by name.
"I couldn't believe they knew my name," she says. "That was a very personal introduction to a company that proved to me it had a strong family environment. They were so personal. That's what this company stands for."
That experience is one of the reasons Castardo-Jones has been with Edwards for 34 years. She has become virtually synonymous with A.G. Edwards in Ormond Beach. "When people see me, it's 'Hey, there's Rebecca Jones. She's with A.G. Edwards,'" she says. "I like that."
The recognition, of course, stems from her longevity at the firm. "If someone moves around a lot, it creates an unstable feeling, and I've always had a problem with that," she says.
Castardo-Jones, who has nearly 600 clients and manages 76 million dollars in assets, feels too many brokers these days change firms. She says it's not only detrimental to them, but to the firms, the clients and the industry overall.
"Too many jump just for the money," she says. "I think many of them are very disillusioned after the money has been used. To me, what clients look for in a broker is stability, commitment and loyalty. When a broker jumps around, more than anything it shows that they can be bought."
Working for one firm for 34 years doesn't mean she avoids change. In fact, Castardo-Jones won't tolerate being in a rut. That's why she's been married three times.
"I am a competitive person, and I'm an achiever," Castardo-Jones says. "If I perceive that I'm in a rut or a situation where I'm not growing intellectually, emotionally and professionally, then I am unhappy and need a change. That's how the situation was with my first two marriages."
Castardo-Jones came close to leaving A.G. Edwards as a result of her second divorce. But the firm she was looking at later folded.
"Sometimes you don't think right under emotional distress," she says, "but that was one time I did think properly. A.G. Edwards has turned out to be the ideal firm for me, which means it's ideal for my clients, and that's what counts."
Family Matters Jim Goodknight, Edward Jones, Joplin, Mo.
Jim Goodknight is as well known in Joplin, Mo., as the famous 1946 Bobby Troop hit "Route 66," which mentions the town in the song.
"No one knew Edward Jones when I first started working here," says 57-year-old Goodknight, who has lived in Joplin since he was 10 and worked with Jones since he was 27. "So the collective reputation of the firm [in Joplin] started with me because I used to travel all over giving seminars and building up that reputation and setting the investment policies for the firm."
As a result of being so instrumental in Jones' rise in the Missouri town, Goodknight never considered jumping to another firm, despite having the opportunity to do so many times.
"Leaving Edward Jones," he says, "would be like getting a divorce. This is a true family here. The long-term benefit of being with Jones was very powerful when I weighed it against an upfront bonus, and that's primarily because the brokers at Jones own a significant amount of the company's capital."
The philosophy of the firm's founder Ted Jones was to give the people who did the work an ownership stake in the business along with independence, Goodknight says. "He saw Edward Jones as a partnership among the brokers. That philosophy is rare. Over time, all of the partners in the firm gave up some of their interest to allow new people to come in."
That, in turn, created an environment in which brokers see their co-workers as partners, not competitors. "I don't think you'll ever find another firm where the people get so much help from existing brokers," Goodknight says.
Goodknight believes constancy creates a high level of confidence and security among his clients. His client base has grown so large over the years--it peaked at 4,000--that he's given 80 percent of his book to other Edward Jones brokers not once, not twice, but three times. And his assets continue to grow. He's currently managing more than 200 million dollars.
Goodknight attributes much of his success to longevity. "I'm grateful I wound up here first," he says.