A talk with the boss
“I love that I can be in a meeting with people from all over the firm talking about a new product or service or a business change and inevitably someone will ask the question:What does this mean to clients?”
- Paul Reilly, Chairman and CEO, Raymond James Financial
Q. You’ve done a great job defining the vision of Raymond James as being “the premier alternative to Wall Street.” As CEO, you have a primary responsibility to help execute on this vision. How do you deliver?
A. This is definitely a team effort by everyone at our firm – it’s the idea of having all the capabilities of our largest competitors, within a client-first culture.
In terms of capabilities, we have to focus on continuous growth, because growth is a virtuous cycle that allows us to continuously reinvest in the technology, people and processes that help us respond to a constantly changing environment.
That said, our growth has to be grounded in the client-first culture that has defined us and is the basis for our success. We believe the best way to serve end clients well is to serve their advisors well, treating them as our clients. It’s an approach that results in high advisor and client satisfaction, and is something we’re extremely proud of.
It’s no coincidence that I typically start and end every presentation I give by talking about our values of client first, independence, integrity and conservatism. We all need regular reminders to ensure we don’t get off course, even as we continue to evolve the business.
Q. Looking across the competitive industry landscape, what do you think is going to set Raymond James apart in the industry? What do you see as the defining feature in terms of service, culture or expertise?
A. Our focus on supporting the advisor-client relationship is the key to our competitive advantage, whether you’re comparing us to the more traditional firms, or to technology-driven “robo” platforms. We believe the benefit Raymond James offers to investors isn’t about the firm, it’s about the advisor they work with.
When we make decisions at the corporate level, we are hyper-focused on supporting advisors and their clients. Honestly, this often makes the job for our associates more difficult – it would be easier to just make a change and move on, let the chips fall where they may. Instead, there’s a decided thoughtfulness to our approach that I saw when I joined the firm … it’s the Raymond James way. Associates at all levels are trying to think through potential impacts before they happen and consider questions clients and advisors will have before they have them.
Of course, we must respond to changes in our environment – from regulation to technology to client expectations – so we will remain a competitive partner for advisors and their clients, as well as a reasonably profitable investment for our shareholders. But if we focus on doing things thoughtfully and with great consideration for advisors and their clients, we can evolve even as we remain rooted in the culture that has been, and will continue to be, our competitive advantage.
Q. The firm continues to invest in technology, specifically technology for advisors and their clients. How do you think this will help better our firm and our advisors?
A. Well, first of all, there’s an imperative to invest in technology – access to information and the ability to perform tasks online is critical to our daily lives, and protecting electronic data is a huge part of being a corporation in today’s world.
But our technology investments definitely go beyond the “keeping the lights on” baseline, and there’s a lot to be excited about. Our approach is to create tools to empower advisors – to automate tasks that should be automated, to offer insights based on data that will help advisors meet the sophisticated needs of their clients, and to increase the ability for advisors and their clients to collaborate using technology.
The goal is to give advisors more tools, insights and time to connect with clients and understand their unique needs– which is what the best financial advice is based on – as well as more tools to effectively meet those needs. Again, it’s about supporting the advisor-client relationship.
Q. As you look forward toward the next decade, how is Raymond James positioned to manage the constant changes our industry presents?
A. There’s a reason Raymond James was one of the few firms that navigated through the financial crisis, not only surviving, but thriving. It’s our management approach and our long-term view, but also our willingness to adapt and do the work necessary to meet demands, whatever they are.
The year I joined the firm – 2009 – wasn’t the best year in financial services industry history, to say the least. (I have impeccable timing.) But it was the most successful recruiting year in Raymond James’ history. Yes, advisors were fleeing failing firms and we were a haven for them, but I think part of what we saw was our associates really step up. They were working under extreme circumstances – their peers at competitor firms were losing their jobs, there were compensation and hiring freezes at Raymond James so we wouldn’t have to take that next step – but they didn’t back down from the challenge of bringing on all these advisors. They saw the opportunity to introduce a different way of doing business to them, and made it happen.
That ethic is why we’ve successfully integrated firms like Morgan Keegan and Alex. Brown. It’s why we continue to innovate and introduce new technology tools to advisors. It’s an attitude that permeates the firm, and is one of the reasons I have confidence in our ability to not only react to changes, but take advantage of them in a way that helps advisors and their clients be even more successful.
Q. Raymond James has proven to be successful with integrating acquisitions while maintaining the strong cultural values of the firm. How do you plan to continue to feel small as you approach 7,200 advisors and continue to grow?
A. Raymond James has emerged as a well-recognized player in the wealth management industry over the last 10 to 15 years, and that idea of the premier alternative to Wall Street we talked about previously has really resonated with advisors, leading to successful recruiting, as well as high retention of advisors when we combine with other firms, and – even more important – ongoing retention of existing advisors.
That growth is great, but it does bring the challenge of maintaining culture. How can you offer the same level of service to 7,200 advisors and their clients that you did to half that many? How can you ensure the support associates we hire today will have the same commitment to our Service 1st philosophy that those who have been with us 20 years demonstrate?
I’d say it’s a matter of attitude, not size. It’s a discipline of staying focused on our core values and how we manage the business. Of communicating – repeatedly – what is important and then demonstrating – consistently – that it’s not just talk.
I love that I can be in a meeting with people from all over the firm talking about a new product or service or a business change and inevitably someone will ask the question: What does this mean to clients?
That focus on clients really defines Raymond James and is the litmus test for everything we do. Being in those meetings and hearing questions like that tells me we’re doing something right. We’re not perfect, and we make mistakes, but we start from the right place.
We’re focused on growth, yes. But you don’t continue to grow if you make short-term decisions that don’t first consider the people you’re serving … eventually those kinds of choices come back around, usually with not-so-great consequences.
I’m confident that the foundation Bob James created and that Tom built this great company on will continue to be the reason for our ongoing success. It’s worked for more than half a century; I don’t see any reason to change the fundamental principles that got us where we are today.