January's a good time to assess how you did in 2001 and figure out where you're going in the New Year. This year, there's a new Website that is specifically designed to help brokers with this annual ritual.

IndependentRepBestPractices.com (a site for wirehouse brokers is in the works) allows you to conduct your own peer review by benchmarking yourself against other brokers who have entered their information on the site. The process provides insight on how to improve productivity and profitability — the kind of thing consultants do, except it doesn't charge fees.

Greg Metcalf, a registered investment advisor with Royal Alliance Associates, in Weirton, W.V., has tried the site.

“It allowed me to centralize my goal planning for 2002 — to gauge where my business is and to focus on the steps necessary to get me where I want to be in three to five years,” says Metcalf.

It does all this by posing 40 questions. Understand, that while the consultation is free, it will cost you some time. Completing the entire survey takes about 45 minutes. For those with short attention spans, an á la carte option lets users focus on specific areas of concern.

Responses remain confidential, but the aggregated data is being sold to vendors in the financial-services arena. Having access to the ongoing survey's results is valuable feedback for these vendors — assuming they use it to make improvements.

“Basically, if you are a rep trying to run and grow your business and wondering how you compare, pretty much any question that would come up or, more importantly, should come up, is covered,” explains Chip Roame, managing principal of the site's developer, Tiburon Strategic Advisors, a Tiburon, Calif.-based consulting company. Questions range from “Do I have the right licenses?” to “Do I charge the right fees?”

From the entries, the system has begun to create a profile of the industry's best practices, as reported by respondents from the top firms. (See table).

Jeff Kowal, head of Kowal Investment Group in Elm Grove, Wis., says he found it interesting to see what technology and mutual fund families' other reps were using. And he was especially struck by the correlation between production and staffing. One of the conclusions drawn from the initial survey is that the income of top producers is in direct proportion to the size of their staffs: The bigger the staffs, the bigger the income. “This indicated to me that they operate with a culture of delegation,” says Kowal. The site went live in October 2001 with 213 results gathered from an initial sampling of 250 independent reps from SunAmerica Financial Network, which sponsored the site's development. Kowal was among the top-producing brokers recruited for the database to capture their best practices. “We were looking for a mechanism through which we could reach our reps, and through which they could determine what works best so they could determine how best to focus their energies,” says Russ Phillips, chief marketing officer for Woodland Hills, Calif.-based SunAmerica.

Though SunAmerica's first priority was to improve the performance of its own reps, it realized that broader industry participation will provide more useful information, so it sponsored the open site. By December, the site had data from 900 respondents, almost half from outside SunAmerica. Meanwhile, Tiburon gets to use the information to help plot strategy for its clients, mostly big financial services companies.

To visit the site, type:

Best Practices

Just what are some of the preliminary conclusions on the industry's best practices according to IndependentRepBestPractices.com? They include:

  • Focusing on larger clients
  • Focusing on capturing more retirement plan rollovers
  • Focusing on fee business as a source of revenues
  • Leveraging your business by adding registered reps and administrative support

Source: Tiburon Strategic Advisors