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The Challenges of Being a Branch Office Manager Newbie

The Challenges of Being a Branch Office Manager Newbie

Anyone moving into a management position today will inevitably be compared to the old guard, while dealing with business factors their predecessors never encountered

Any advisor who grew up in one of the larger brokerage houses can tell you about their experiences with branch office managers. Some horror stories for sure, but also some managers that are remembered fondly; they went to bat for the advisor, made life easier for everyone and earned a high degree of loyalty.

But as the business evolves, the role is being squeezed. Compensation for branch managers has been slashed by some 65 percent, according to industry recruiter Rick Peterson. Many have been let go, move back into production or leave of their own accord. “The positions generally get refilled only if they’re in strategically important areas,” Peterson says.  

As such, any newbie moving into a management position today will inevitably be compared to the old guard, while dealing with business factors their predecessors never encountered. Here are some top challenges:

“The Guy Before You Was Great”

As the new manager of an existing branch, you’re probably replacing someone who had become too expensive for your firm to keep.  “It’s also likely someone who many of your new employees feel is irreplaceable,” says Bruce Tulgan, a management consultant.

Like many things in life, managers are often remembered more fondly in hindsight, and you’ll inevitably be compared. It means you have the added burden of showing advisors you can make their lives easier, even as the larger corporation may be putting more pressure on you to cut back.

If you save an advisor from a complicated snafu, or from hours of mindless paper filing, memories of your predecessor will evaporate and you’ll be on the troop’s good side. So first, attack their biggest pain points. That often has to do with compliance and back office issues, says Andre Cappon, head of CBM Group, an industry consultant. And make sure the advisors know you are doing it so they can get on with the “important” work.

“Your job will likely require stroking producers’ egos, and helping them navigate an ever-growing amount of bureaucratic red tape.  Then you can get on with coaching, recruiting, and so many of the other responsibilities branch managers have today.”

“You’re Not a Producer, What do You Know?”

New managers who’ve never been in production face some extra-tough hurdles. “We prefer a manager who’s been in the trenches and knows what we’re dealing with,” says a Merrill Lynch advisor in New York who also asked to remain anonymous. “Yet, who is going to give up a book in this environment to become a manager?

“Those who’ve never been advisors are often reticent to go to bat for us because they don’t want to make waves with upper management and risk losing their jobs. That’s typically not the case with former producers.  They’ve been where we are and understand our needs.  They also know how important our success is to theirs,” he added.

Tulgan suggests these managers need to work extra hard to show they are not corporate lackeys, but engaged leaders who make it known they consider managing the careers of these advisors a “sacred responsibility.”

“Mr. Big Shot Now, Eh?”

Just as there is a problem with managers who have never been advisors, there are also issues when one of the rank-and-file are brought up.

“People who were your peers just the day before are now your direct reports,” Tulgan says.  “Some may have more experience than you and feel should have received the promotion.  Some will be people with whom you didn’t get along beforehand, while others may be people you socialize with.  Now, you are the boss across the board.  It can be overwhelming.”

He says many managers in this situation try to ‘soft-pedal’ their new authority, essentially telling their charges that nothing has changed, they are still the same person. “That can only work until a problem surfaces, a change needs to implemented or someone needs to be held accountable,” Tulgan says.

Conversely, he says, some new managers come on too strong in an effort to gain respect. “It’s important to remember that you got the promotion, and you don’t need to justify being the boss,” Tulgan says.  Tells the troops you are honored for the opportunity, and you are going to do your best to make it a success, and you look forward to their cooperation.

Are you branch office manager? What’s your biggest challenge? Do you have an office manager? What’s your biggest piece of advice? Leave your comments below.

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