Branch managers are busier than they ever have been. Sure, compliance issues have grown. (Outside of the firearm industry, can you think of a more regulated business?) But it's not just the increased compliance burden brought on by the popping of the tech bubble. Many broker/dealers, particularly the big firms, have been pushing branch office managers back into production.
Wall Street abhors a "cost of goods sold" line item, so, in an attempt to save money and up productivity, the wirehouses (and many regionals) have been creating complexes headed by a director who typically does not produce. As such, he has time and resources to devote to the compliance and regulatory concerns of the branches under his jurisdiction. This frees up branch managers to run their own books of business -- well, the smaller BOMs, anyway.
The trend has been gaining momentum over the last two years, says Rick Peterson, head of Rick Peterson & Associates, a Houston-based industry recruiting firm. In so doing, more of the ever-mounting compliance burden is being lifted off of managers of smaller offices. And that means that these managers, who may oversee a few reps to as many as 20, are being encouraged to produce, Peterson says. " It makes their jobs and branches much more economically viable. Firms are realizing that most reps prefer when their managers produce, because it keeps them in touch with the issues they face," Peterson says.
Though actual numbers weren't available from the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA, formally the SIA) or the NASD, the consensus is that their ranks have grown over the past two years (as complexing has flourished). A Registered Rep. survey in 2003 found that 61.9 percent of BOMs were producing. Today, that number is estimated to be at "more like 80 percent," says Stewart Lee, chairman and CEO of Lee Training in Wellston, OK, a firm that develops branch-management training programs for the SIFMA and IDA in Canada (a self-regulatory and securities trade association).
The Great Time Suck
Of course, there are still plenty of management responsibilities to tackle, from recruiting to compliance issues. And, for the producing BOM, time management can be especially challenging. So, how to meet the challenge of being both producer and manager?
Peterson and other industry experts say: Forget about acting as a money manager. You'll have to use third-party asset managers, from mutual funds to separately managed accounts. But you knew that. Asset gathering, not asset managing (i.e., transactions or "the broker as money manager") is what headquarters wants anyway.
Another way to lighten your load is to upgrade your branch's sales force by hiring better FAs, says Andre Cappon, president of the CBM Group, a management-consulting firm in New York. "There is evidence that compliance problems are proportionate to low-end brokers who are desperate for production and more willing to cut corners," he says. "As firms terminate these people, they reduce the compliance burden." (But attracting and retaining top FAs is easier said than done now that recruiting packages are setting records.)
A former producing branch manager himself, Lee teaches BOMs how to block their time. "Issues and problems will arise," he says. "But, most BOMs tend to view them as crises that warrant their immediate attention." Best thing to do is to control your day, don't let it control you, he says. It's something 80 percent of the producing BOMs he coaches struggle with, he says.
But, barring an actual emergency, it's best to keep "office hours," say, setting aside an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Ask brokers can to save their questions for those times and you'll get a lot more done, Lee says.
But not everyone is cut out for that. You have to know thyself (a personality test is a good idea, Lee says, so that you create a realistic working model). Lee recommends another strict schedule: What he calls, the Power Block, in which you block out 45 minutes of each hour, reserving the last 15 minutes for spontaneity. "For example, you might spend 9 to 9:45 a.m. focused on compliance. Then you walk the floor until 10 a.m.," he says. The next hour could involve 45 solid minutes of production and 15 minutes on the floor, and so on. That way, you are always "on point," but also accessible for unplanned needs.
Jim Oxley, CFP, has spent the better part of two decades as a producing BOM at Roney & Co, which was acquired by Raymond James & Associates in 1999. In 2005, RJA made him a complex director and, in 2006, he was named a regional manager in Greenwood, Ind., where he oversees 16 branches. Crazy as it sounds, Oxley still produces as part of a four-FA team (with help from two sales assistants). His group is on track to produce about $2.7 million this year.
Oxley stresses the importance of quiet time rather than the so-called "power block." He comes in a bit earlier than his reps to do reviews and get a jump on the day. Even still, he says he realized early in his career that in order to both manage and produce he needed a rep partner. Oxley, a rainmaker, still prospects for new business, but most of his accounts are managed ones and other team members execute any trades.
The branch he works from is also headed by a nonproducing resident manager, which frees up some time. So, he says, does improved technology. "If I had to do everything manually, like years ago, I couldn't do this," Oxley says. "Fortunately, Raymond James has technology and resources that allow me to get quick snapshots of what's going on with the branches, FAs and client accounts I oversee at any time."