Sirianni: “Raymond James Technology a Differentiator”

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AdvisorHUB spent an afternoon with Tony Sirianni, a renowned financial services strategist and personality, and ended up with a few nuggets regarding the current arc of the industry. In a Q&A session with our own CEO and Founder, Andrew Parish, both gentlemen discussed the changes in the ’swim lanes’ in the industry over the past decade as well as the proliferation of tech platforms serving both the advisor and the client. Further discussion was had around Ameriprise’s move into a stronger position in the hearts and minds of advisors, and where the firm is headed in 2015.

As we close in on the end of the first quarter of 2015 it remains clear that the recruiting landscape is ripe for the picking. Early 2015 returns show activity remains strong at places like HighTower, Raymond James, Ameriprise and even Merrill Lynch. Each firm is using a different formula to lure different types of advisors. Whatever they’ve decided to serve up, it seems to be working.

Here are a few snippets of that conversation, and specifically Tony’s take on the aforementioned issues:

Q – One of the things I’ve been thinking about – movement away from decades long tiers within wealth management and how firms are talked about – wirehouse, regional, independents. Besides the wires I’ve been interested in two tiers: Regional Space – super regionals, nationals (RJs, Ameriprise, Stifel) Your thoughts on the separations of firms in the regional space, and significant changes (philosophically) in the independent space?

A – “When a wirehouse advisor leaves they never come back. Newcomers are being aggressive and bringing change – leading the pack and benefiting from the advisors that are leaving those wirehouses. They want to make something great happen and are distancing themselves. They have great, quality leadership, both regional and independent, like Stifel, Raymond James. Smaller firms are taking advantage of these sea changes.”

Q – Talk about separation in the firms apart from recruiting.

A – “Technology. Platforms are much more robust outside of WH. Independent guys are excited from all the chances and possibilities. They have the most up-to-date systems, whereas at a WH you can’t upgrade as easily. You can’t just switch 15k systems and upgrade them. That’s a positive outside of recruiting, and you can’t shift your system.”

Q – Technology can be a huge differentiator. What strides has Raymond James made from a technology or platform standpoint say over the past 5 years? Was it a large shift or inch-by-inch that ends up being something that makes all the sense in the world? For both advisors who have been there for decades and those who are coming in?

A – “With RJ what benefits them is the variety of platforms. One brings something in and the data is recycled. The president of one division can see something and share it with the other. Other firms just don’t get a chance to see what the other sleeves are doing. Mainly because they don’t have representation in that space. They have an opportunity to share between models. This is why Raymond James culture is so vibrant.”

Q – You think there will be a moment in time where Raymond James is considered a wirehouse? Speaking of that, what are the real differences between a Raymond James and Wells Fargo? Are there principle differences as to what would make them a wirehouse vs. Raymond James?

A – “The bottom line is philosophical.  At Raymond James when you leave they help you pack and shake your hand. No lawsuit, they’re your clients. You can be completely independent with Raymond James, just use their platform. That’s a huge step, it’s brilliant. They’ll leverage financially and help start-ups. Many firms are scared of occupying that space, well Raymond James is already in that business. Philosophically it’s just a different place.

Q – Knowing what I know about Ameriprise and their position, where are they in overcoming, from a perception standpoint, the old IDEX, AMEX financial advisor type stuff? Where are they at in that process?

A – “They made the big splash and started the conversation when they changed their recruiting deal last year. It matters now what they do about it. When you make a huge splash people tend to look but then lose attention and look away. They have to prove with execution and constantly bring things to the table. They have to prove that not only can they pay a lot of money to bring someone over but that we have a deep meaningful quality of life here at Ameriprise. It’ll take time but they need to show what they do after bringing someone in.”

Q – Do you see there being a consolidation in the independent space? Is there a chance that a place like HT gets purchased by any of the firms discussed today?

A – “Some firms set themselves up to sell. Others never to sell. They want to grow and get to a certain size. Local or regional firms are going to continue to grow. Others are just not for sale, and never will be. The firms that do want acquired have to be careful. Once an acquisition is made they have to be careful to maintain their identity and not lose who they are in the process. If you have a reason to aggregate and the partners agree with it then you move forward. Look at what Stifel just did. It is a deal that will be accretive and won’t be a significant disruption to their culture. Meanwhile they are adding a meaningful piece in the independent space. That is the type of acquisition that could be a model for others down the road.”

Tony certainly has his finger on the pulse of the industry and believes there is a significant and meaningful value proposition for each platform. Whether wirehouse, super regional, sub-regional, independent, RIA or global investment banks – they all carry a specific vision for why their particular brand is best suited for their clients. Consolidation will continue to move through the industry in both a micro (ria to ria) and macro (Stifel, Sterne Agee type deals) sense. How it all shakes out over the course of the next decade should be thrilling.

Tony Sirianni is one of the most respected voices in the Independent space, and a tireless advocate for Advisors and RIAs. Through his firm Sirianni Strategy Group, he works with elite Advisors, RIAs and corporations in Public Relations and Strategy. Tony was a founding partner of Steward Partners, CEO and founder of Washington Wealth Management, and an Executive Director and Complex Manager for Morgan Stanley, Smith Barney, and Legg Mason. He has a Masters in creative writing and a JD from New York Law School.

Learn more about the Sirianni Strategy Group

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