How the top 10 branch manager judges and advisers view the industry's best leaders

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Industry experts who act as judges to determine On Wall Street’s Top 10 Branch Managers come away with an intimate knowledge of what makes these leaders the best in the industry. They essentially come to know the nominees almost as well as the advisers who nominate them.

Kenton Shirk, associate director at research firm Cerulli Associates, learned after several years of judging that most managers take a strategic direction that’s inclusive of advisers and ensures that all of them have a voice that’s heard. Some of the branch managers interviewed by On Wall Street in our cover story call that an “adviser-centric” approach that’s critical to the success of everyone involved, including the firms. “The result is a clear vision and specific goals for the branch — inspiring everyone toward a common path,” Shirk adds.

That commonality for some time has focused heavily on recruiting young advisers and placing them on teams. Branch managers in this latest round of judging, as viewed by the judges, were getting a vote of confidence for helping the industry make progress.

“With the graying of the adviser force, most respondents shared that their firm and/or practice has taken an active approach to recruiting younger advisers, says Bill Butterfield, a senior analyst focused on wealth management at another research firm Aite Group and who has also served several times as a judge. “We saw much less of these teaming/mentoring approaches five years ago.”

Butterfield offers how the industry can beef up support for the effort. “Firms should take the lead and develop enterprise-wide programs to lead newly minted advisers through a two-to-three-year program, similar to how newly hired investment banking employees are run through various departments over the first few years. This will help standardize the format, helping branch managers be more efficient in training new advisers.”

And after his first impressions, new judge David Lo saw how branch managers have best come to understand the ways they can leverage the strengths of their advisers. “I gave more credit to comments mentioning practical strategies and approaches to addressing these needs,” Lo, associate partner and head of U.S. client insight at research firm Scorpio Partnership, says. “Things around technology, utilizing data to inform training, and client segmentation were all compelling actions that were taken.”

He was encouraged by how much branch managers are “forward thinking,” echoing comments from advisers who credit their bosses for helping them find success. The judges have circled back in agreement.

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