SAN DIEGO -- While acknowledging years of service and technology problems, LPL says it is making headway in turning itself into a better place to work for advisers.

"Last year I talked about being in the messy middle," LPL's CEO Mark Casady told thousands of attendees at the country's largest independent broker dealer's annual conference in San Diego. "I feel like we are rounding a new corner here at LPL. We've gotten through the initial investments."

Read more: Former top LPL producer says erosion of service drove him to leave

"Massive" investments in tech upgrades, service and risk management are positioning LPL to take advantage of tremendous changes in the market, including those prompted by the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule, Casady and other LPL executives said from the main stage.

'THIS DOL THING'

"We woke up one day and said, 'Gosh, there's this DoL thing we've got to figure out,'" Casady said, noting that adaptation to the rule opens the door to growth opportunities. The rule says advisers must put their clients' interests ahead of their own.

(Image: Bloomberg News)
(Image: Bloomberg News)

For one, the IBD has introduced a new service focus area for advisers devoted to helping them comply with the rule.

Casady also nodded to regulatory fines in LPL's past.

"We're not in the news as much as it relates to regulatory" issues, Casady pointed out.

A number of high-profile departures of LPL advisers over the years has highlighted problems the large firm has had servicing of its about 14,000 affiliated independent planner.

"There is a point that you will turn to personal advice," says LPL Chief Information Officer Victor Fetter. "Where the industry eventually figures out what that benchmark is, I don’t know."
Victor Fetter, LPL Financial's chief information officer.

To that end, a number of LPL executives detailed specific improvements, ranging from the technological to the inter-personal.

NO MORE 'FINGER WAVING'

Compliance reviews have been one sticking point for LPL-affiliated advisers.

"The first word that came to mind was crud," said adviser Guillermo Adame in a video, describing how he used to feel while anticipating a compliance review.

But LPL is working to change that gut reaction.

"The days of the finger-waving compliance officer are over," said Michelle Oroschakoff, LPL's chief risk officer, prompting a smattering of applause from the back of the room.

Some of Ororschakoff's examiners have been known to turn up at mandated surprise regulatory reviews — the bane of advisers — with a box of donuts to lighten the mood and get both sides talking, another LPL executive said.

"Now I feel we are sitting on the same side of the table," Adame said on the video.

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"We woke up one day and said, 'Gosh, there's this DoL thing we've got to figure out,'" said CEO Mark Casady.

The IBD says it has reduced the time it takes for its service center operators to pick up phone calls from two minutes to 17 seconds, an 84% improvement, Tom Gooley, LPL managing director of service, trading, and operations, said.

Increasing the number of people in the call center by 25% made all the difference, he added.

He also cited a new Request Tracking Tool that allows advisers to track the progress of their service requests, much as they would track a FedEx package.

"It's not just about automation. It's about smarter automation," Gooley said.

8 HOURS DROPS TO 1.5

Victor Fetter, LPL's chief information officer who acknowledged the severity of LPL's service problems at the same conference main stage three years ago, said many upgrades are happening behind the scenes where advisers can't necessarily see them.

"Updating our data centers," he said was one of the upgrades, adding that the firm is also investing in asset security initiatives.

"In the past year, we've delivered over 2,500 changes to our environment on your behalf," he said. "That is where the investment is going."

Steven Budin, of the Budin Group in Las Vegas, described in a video how his firm benefited from some of LPL's technology upgrades.

"Five years ago what would have taken me eight hours of work to do, today would have taken me an hour and a half," Budin said.

Another adviser reduced nine cabinets full of client paperwork down to a half a drawer, Fetter said.

"Certainly we are seeing the benefits," he added.

One adviser attendee, Lee Travers, cofounder of Income Wealth Solutions, an LPL-affiliated firm in Tyler, Texas, says he is, too.

"They realize there is a ways to go, but they are making great strides," Travers says of LPL.