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A strong culture is key to inspiring the team and workplace of tomorrow.
How can you spot a great corporate culture? Some would point to strong leadership and an inspiring mission. Others would say it’s all about holding on to top talent by providing workplace flexibility and the opportunity for career mobility. While all of these elements contribute to a strong culture, the key is the feeling you get when you step into the office. While you can’t see it or touch it, that jolt of inspiration and excitement is what can motivate you to give your best, and instills the confidence that your team will do the same.
Culture is the common thread that knits together people and workplace. In a people-focused industry like financial advice, it holds even more weight, and can catalyze the opportunity to attract much-needed talent to the profession. Advisory assets have grown 9% over the last three years, while headcount has stagnated. This comes as retirement looms for nearly 40% of advisors within the next decade. Not surprisingly, cultivating talent ranks as a top priority for advisors, according to our BNY Mellon Pershing Elite Advisor Poll. Advisory firm leaders need to make smart, purposeful decisions to maintain a strong future for their firms. The rise of the fiduciary advice model has made the advisory profession more competitive. This may be a positive for investors seeking long-term partnerships with a credible advisory firm, but it is forcing advisory firms to work harder than ever to differentiate themselves.
Reimagine the workplace from the ground up with a focus on diverse teams, a revitalized workplace, powered by a renewed focus on culture. What’s the secret to success? Focusing on three key areas – including culture, people and workplace – can make a world of difference.
1. Emphasize culture and listen. Culture was a buzzword that leadership didn’t necessarily pay attention to. Now, however, it is critical. In the Elite Advisor Poll, advisors reported that culture is a top firm differentiator and it is a top people focus. Here’s the thing: The culture that you had before the pandemic isn’t necessarily going to work anymore, so the time to change is now. Employees, particularly the next generation of talent, want to regularly hear from leadership to know that their bosses care about what they think and what drives them. They also want employers offering an opportunity to learn, grow and advance with a career path. (Check out an on-demand replay of an INSITE session on this topic, “From Workforce to Competitive Driving Force”).
As part of the Pershing organization for several decades, I’ve had the unique opportunity to actively carry our culture forward, and observe how it has held up over time, most recently during the pandemic. The “Zoom era” provided a vital stop-gap in our ability to come together, collaborate and keep operations ticking away. Furthermore, digital tools like video conferencing continue to offer a flexible solution for employees to fit work and life together.
However, financial advice thrives on the art of relationship building – and there’s no replacement for face-to-face engagement when it comes to establishing a strong foundation for a new relationship, or maintaining existing connections. That human element is irreplaceable, whether it’s getting to know someone’s work style, or being able to effectively collaborate, should to shoulder in a meeting room or at your desks. A good, quick example – have you tried whiteboarding on video conference? While it is possible, brainstormers often find themselves at opposite ends of the spectrum – either tripping over each other to weigh in, or staying more quiet than usual because of the dynamic of a web call. As a result, the output often lacks that energy and edge that in-person conversation makes possible. We are excited to offer the flexibility for teams to work in a hybrid world, and reconnect in ways that enable our strong culture to be reignited.
2. Diverse, collaborative teams are essential. True leadership appreciates and encourages their team to be true to who they are. The advisory profession is figuring out how to balance the needs of experienced employees with newcomers who need to be trained and ingrained in the company culture, something that may not be done as easily in a remote setting. This was front-and-center at our INSITE conference this year, which brought together over 1,600 professionals from the community of financial advice. This included current and future leaders, with experiences designed to unite individuals for open dialogue, networking and learning opportunities throughout the event. We welcomed our Minority Business Enterprise (MBE) Council, made up of clients who lead successful minority, women and veteran-owned businesses, motivating positive change within the industry, our Next Leadership Forum (NLF), including emerging leaders from wealth management firms across the country, and over 60 university students to our INSITE Student Experience, which doubled in size this year. We’re proud to report that the student experience has already helped next generation financial professionals secure internship and career opportunities with top advisory firms.
What’s the critical first step in building and nurturing a diverse team? Cast aside old ways of working together. As the old adage goes, what got you here won’t get you there. Advisory firms need to start experimenting with new ways to give junior and newer employees opportunities to be seen and heard, and establish true connections with colleagues in a collaborative atmosphere. Plus, going above and beyond to identify new sources of talent to avoid fishing from the same talent pool. We were pleased to welcome a dynamic group of interns to the firm over the summer, and were so impressed by the drive, determination and fresh perspectives they offered. In fact, one intern went so far as to reimagine how client data that’s vital for our relationship management team each day could be visualized in a new dashboard format, in just a few weeks. Whether it’s carving out agenda time for new voices to share updates at a formal meeting, or a casual networking opportunity outside the office, time together, and time to share matters.
3. Reimagining the workplace of the future – today. The days of the 9-to-5 grind are gone. For the first time in generations, flexibility is the name of the game in the workplace, and employees now expect their employers to respect their individual situations and needs.To be an attractive employer, companies must offer options that include increased flexibility from a remote work standpoint. We’ve leaned into a more modern workplace that includes a component of in-person collaboration and remote work. We’re not saying that no one wants to be in the office. Some employees thrive there. However, we fully trust our employees to get the job done regardless of where they work.
Want proof? We introduced a two-week “work from anywhere” program that allows employees to literally pick their office location – whether it’s alongside family in another state, at a favorite getaway like the beach, or abroad in Europe. If the employee adds on a vacation at the beginning or end, they could spend an extended amount of time in a self-selected location, to reap the benefits of unplugging in a new locale, and collaborating with colleagues they don’t normally get to engage with in-person. In fact, I will be headed across the Pond in a few months to take advantage of this opportunity.
As employees work more remotely, the time they do spend together needs to be more meaningful. Clients tell us that they’re working on more team-building activities off site and developing more regular sessions that are purposeful in working to connect their staff's and imbue them with the company culture. The key to success will be flexibility and awareness of which engagement models work best for each advisory firm’s team, and their clients. While more of the day-to-day conversations may take place virtually, thanks to accelerated adoption of video conferencing and chat technology, human interaction has become appreciated on a deeper level.
How do you spot a great culture or an opportunity to strengthen it? The next generation has the power to reshape the industry, so supporting them is vital to driving progress. People are the heart of your company, so seeking perspective, input,and fresh ideas, will ensure your culture remains firmly rooted in what matters to them and ultimately your business. The top asset for an advisory firm has and always will be its people – with focus and effort, we can keep it that way.
Maura Creekmore is co-head of Pershing’s wealth solutions segment, which serves wealth-oriented broker-dealers, registered investment advisors (RIAs) and trust companies, and the evolving and converging needs of these clients.
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