In this issueâ€™s edition of The Lookout we wanted to examine the recruitment side of the business. We sat down with Niels Leppert, Managing Director of Accella Research. Entering their fifth year of business, Accella Research is an executive search firm with a practice focus in financial-advisor recruitment. Mr. Leppert is a Florida native who holds a bachelorâ€™s degree from Brown University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where do you see the industry in the next five years?
Look for more acquisition-based economies of scale that will also be forced to deliver entrepreneurial flexibility to the front lines. Big companies will discover that they have more technology than they know what to do with, and smaller operations will have an increasingly vast array of IT outsourcing choices. Baby boomersâ€™ life expectancies will create new challenges and opportunities, while GenX will begin to influence and challenge the industry to re-invent itself, and while I firmly believe that the business will continue to be technology driven, the power of perspective that advisors will bring to the table will increase, not diminish as the world continues to get smaller and more complicated.
How did you get into the business?
Totally by default. As a literature major at Brown University, I picked up Studs Terkelâ€™s Working. After about 30 pages I realized I wanted to live the book. That, coupled with a mania for collecting business cards. Iâ€™ve been either lucky enough or foolish enough to have spent a lot of time traveling when I was in my twenties. Iâ€™ve sanded varnish in Antibes, loaded cameras in New Zealand, and worked on the restoration of a farmhouse in the Orkney Islands. Baled hay and cut timber in Montana, and for about two very scary weeks I was a bike messenger in Manhattan. I love to put people and ideas together, and in 1998 I discovered that I could do this through recruiting. I was working for a company that was just getting into recruiting stockbrokers and they threw me on a desk. In 2001 I started my own shop and focused on the private-client advisor niche.
How have the new compliance laws affected your business?
On balance theyâ€™ve been very helpful. People realize that the landscape is changing and that they need to constantly monitor not only how they and their clients are being treated, but how other firms are facing the new realities. Sarbanes-Oxley is weeding out a lot of the cowboys, and I think it serves to encourage retention of high caliber people throughout the ranks of the industry. The trick is to balance healthy oversight and regulation with the need for a dynamic, entrepreneurial business model. Our business depends on ambitious, free-thinking people who are willing to listen to new ideas. A brokerage industry stifled by too much compliance will tend not to attract the kind of people who have the energy and drive that the brokerage industry needs.
What is the main motivating factor that gets a broker to move?
If we were in a zero-deal world, brokers would still move, but weâ€™re not, so money will always be the big carrot. This being said, every person Iâ€™ve recruited has moved due to a confluence of issues, such as loss of rapport with their manager, a restrictive prospecting policy, being left out of an account distribution, and significant vesting of deferred comp.
Also, with all the arbitration going on out there, brokers use transitions to thin the number of accounts in their book in order to focus on a core and hopefully, less litigious client base.
What is the main motivating factor in getting a broker to stay?
A great manager makes all the difference in the world in retaining talent. More than payout, deferred comp, product specialists, branch or back office support, office location and dÃ©cor, is the issue of the brokerâ€™s relationship with the branch manager. A great manager keeps the branch upbeat, informed, encouraged and excited about the business.
What would you suggest to a manager who wants to keep his producers without spending more money on the reps?
I am seeing a lot of time and money being spent in arbitration. The hidden costs of this are enormous. A proactive stance on the client relations and operational/compliance side of the business would be where I would focus. Another key issue is new business â€” anything a branch manger can do to help get brokers in front of good leads has a multiplier effect in terms of revenue, rapport, goodwill and teamwork.
Do mergers help or hurt your business?
Mergers help our business because they change the status quo and encourage people to examine the way their company supports their business. While there is a lag time between a merger occurring and a groundswell of candidates, I have never seen a perfect merger that has managed to make everyone happy.
We have an election coming up. Do you feel either candidate has emerged as Wall Streetâ€™s favorite?
This campaign is interesting because so many people appear to be supporting one candidate simply because they canâ€™t stand the other guy â€” even Wall Street and Silicon Valley heavies, both on a personal and corporate level, appear to be fairly divided. I think the securities markets as well as the industry of investing and managing peoplesâ€™ wealth will maintain their own inertia regardless of who gets elected. This being said, we urgently need to tackle the really tough issues; we desperately need to address the debt, the tax code and social security, because all these macro issues directly support the health of the brokerage industry.