Growing a Multi-Office Practice

Having more offices often means more opportunity, but even well-organized advisory firms can find it challenging to deliver consistent services across disparate geographic locations.

Industry experts convened for a multi-office practice management panel at the 2014 PLANADVISER National Conference, held earlier this month in Orlando, said communication is key in achieving and maintaining cross-office consistency. Keeping in touch via email and phone calls is helpful, but for many teams, holding regular in-person meetings will be the best way to keep everyone on the same page.

“For us, getting together regularly is a key component of how we can maintain cross-office consistency,” explained Earle Allen, a vice president at Cammack Retirement. “We also have conference calls between our two offices on a regular basis, usually every couple of weeks.”

Allen said the recurring discussion may touch on sales initiatives, practice updates, or strategic planning for the future. “We make sure that the senior leaders participate in those meetings so that they can then deliver the message down to the other members of the consultant staff that are involved in each office,” he added.

Other panelists included Gary Josephs, principal at Retirement Benefits Group, and Jon Upham, president at SageView Advisory Group. Along with Allen, the panelists each warned that distance can be a serious barrier in growing a multi-office advisory business. They said it is important for advisers to maintain effective tools, such as dedicated conference lines, to keep the doorway of communication open. Furthermore, the panelists encouraged an overall atmosphere of inclusivity, especially in relations between the “home office” and any satellite locations that are established, warning against the paralytic effect of an “us against them” mentality.

Firm leaders were also encouraged to be consistent in the way that they reach out to each affiliate. The firm should be identified as one brand, no matter where offices are located or how many there are. It is also important for each satellite office to maintain that same brand when working with any other affiliates or service providers, panelists said.

When it comes to multi-office recruiting, panelists said adviser candidates should be entrepreneurial and independent-minded, as well as upstanding. These traits are critical because advisers in a multi-office firm are often called on to manage their own daily operations without constant home-office oversight, and at the same time their actions will reflect on the firm’s brand as a whole.

Even with the perfect adviser team, there is still the risk of more-than-friendly competition developing between offices. Does it actually happen? The panelists said yes, but they also offered advice in combating this problem. Some solutions discussed included letting the adviser who has the longest-standing relationship with a given client simply have control of that client relationship. When it comes to recruiting, they suggested firm leaders should strive to avoid areas in which other advisers in the firm are already doing business. In the end, sometimes the teams end up joining forces and working together across offices on the same client relationships, panelists said.

The panelists concluded by encouraging the audience to focus on servicing the client and keeping up the quality of their brand and business—do these things and the rest should fall into place. It is a challenge to run a multi-office firm, they said, but it can certainly be done.

“We meet the challenge by trying to have a tightly focused process,” Allen explained. “It’s really a function of getting together with the senior leadership in the offices, having them come together and come up with an agreement on the key things we want to deliver, and then hitting that message with the teams within each office.”