Recruiting grinds to a halt, office visits canceled as virus spreads

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Home office visits are being called off. Employers are postponing career decisions and rescheduling onboarding dates.

As the spread of coronavirus disrupts operations, it’s a precarious moment for advisers who have been planning big career changes for months, possibly years. How do you ask clients to transfer accounts at a time when many people are afraid to simply leave their house?

“Until things settle down a little, moving is just not a paramount concern and it won’t be until there is less uncertainty,” says recruiter Mark Elzweig.

If the pandemic drags on, it risks dampening headcount growth at regional broker-dealers, IBDs and others that have relied on aggressive recruiting tactics.

Simply put: Fewer new advisers means fewer new assets.

Until recently, aggressive recruiters have been opening new offices to house their burgeoning ranks. Stifel, for example, opened 42 new branches last year, according to company earnings reports. Some of those offices have seats that may potentially stay empty for longer than planned. A Stifel spokeswoman could not be reached for comment.

Though Janney Montgomery Scott picked up three new advisers last week, several others have asked to postpone start dates for their employment. Recruiters say advisers are putting off moves.

“I have people now who are in the process of interviewing with prospective firms, and it’s getting harder to schedule meetings,” Elzweig says.

Efforts to stem the pandemic, including restrictions on travel and larger gatherings, are forcing firms and advisers to call off home office visits.

“If you look at Raymond James and similar firms, the home office visit is part of the fabric of what these firms do,” recruiter Danny Sarch says. “But who’s getting on a plane to do a home office visit now? It slows down the normalcy of life. It’s ‘Sure I want to leave my firm, but what do I need to do today?’”

OFFICE VISITS GO VIRTUAL

Some firms host hundreds of prospective recruits at their company headquarters. In 2018, Raymond James had about 650 prospective new hires visit its headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida. These visits give advisers facetime with key specialists, department heads and top executives — and they play a key role in important career decisions.

In the past, the firm has organized virtual home office visits and taken a version of it on the road for advisers who couldn’t travel to Florida. A Raymond James spokeswoman could not be reached for comment about whether the firm was planning virtual visits amid the coronavirus-related travel slowdown.

Janney Montgomery Scott and LPL Financial are experimenting with virtual home office visits for prospective hires who can no longer make the trip in-person.

Jeff Smith, director of recruiting and business development at Janney, says the Philadelphia-based firm hosted its first virtual visit between a team and the company’s senior leadership. The meeting went well, Smith says, and the advisers decided to join the firm sometime in April.

“Digital home office visits won’t replace the personal experience in Philadelphia, but going forward we may use them more and more,” Smith says. Janney has approximately 850 advisers.

LPL Financial, which fields 16,464 advisors, also hosted a virtual home office visit last week, and was able “to provide the same personalized consultation we offer in person, including featuring a range of relevant subject matter experts,” a spokeswoman said.

The company’s transition team “is now traveling by car rather than plane, to be able to provide onsite support to advisors moving their business to LPL’s platform,” the spokeswoman says.

To be sure, some advisers have switched firms this month. Lyle Weintraub, an advisor managing $180 million, left Northwestern Mutual Investment Services to join LPL, the firm said. His registration changed March 9, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records.

And some might say now may be an opportune time to make a career change. When brokers switch firms, former colleagues call their clients to persuade them not to transfer assets to their adviser’s new employer. In this environment, former colleagues could be too busy fielding calls from their own clients to reach out to possible new ones.

Another factor to consider: Recruiting deals on offer today may be very different than those months from now.

“Here’s the big question: Will the deals be renegotiated because the AUM has dropped precipitously? I don’t know the answer,” says attorney Tom Lewis, who has represented advisors making career moves.

Still, there are ample reasons to delay. Clients may be too spooked to transfer assets. Many advisers prefer to explain a career change to clients in person — a tough feat due to increasing travel restrictions imposed by government authorities and brokerages.

Complicating matters, there may not even be an office for advisers to go to. Merrill Lynch partially closed offices in the San Francisco Bay area, and asked advisers to work from home to protect them from the coronavirus. Edward Jones suspended some face-to-face client meetings and temporarily restricted access to its branches. And Ameriprise said it was enabling employees to work from home to help stem the tide of the pandemic.

Janney says it postponed start dates for several new hires. “We can do that because Janney wants the adviser and their clients to be happy and comfortable.”

Janney isn’t alone. Recruiting moves scheduled for March and April may get pushed back to the summer, or later, executives and recruiters say.

“We will keep in touch with people who planned on joining the firm in the coming weeks and months. We’ll see how their comfort level is,” says Doug Kentfield, head of wealth management at Steward Partners, an independent firm that fields 100 advisors.

Steward Partners hasn’t had to postpone any new hires, Kentfield says, but is open to doing so. This “needs to work for them and their clients,” he says.

Of course, much depends on the effectiveness of efforts to combat the coronavirus. If advisers, clients and managers can’t move about, then many career moves might not happen either.

“Frankly, I believe you can’t replace a face-to-face meeting. You just can’t,” says Steven Dudash, president of IHT Wealth Management. “When you are dealing with a successful adviser with a strong career and you are asking them to take a chance to leave where they are and come work for you — you need to do that face to face.”

Virtual meetings can only carry you so far, he says.

“It’s a lot better if you can look them in the eye when you talk to them,” Dudash says.

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Adviser strategies Recruiting Career moves Coronavirus
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