It’s no secret that many branch managers feel their firms now view them more as “costly overhead” rather than as talented coaches and leaders who can greatly benefit their firms’ bottom lines. And lately it seems more rank-and-file financial advisors have been expressing similar sentiments about branch managers— the very folks they once held in the highest regard, and often even aspired to become one day.

Philip Palaveev, president of Fusion Advisor Network, a national membership organization of leading advisory firms, believes it is something of a “‘chicken-or-the-egg” scenario. “Some advisors believe that BoMs haven’t added much value to their practices,” he says. And conversely, “Some BoMs feel underappreciated and stop trying to as hard to contribute.”

But, as the industry has shifted much of its focus from transactional business toward relationship-fostering and team-building in order to survive, the extensive experience and skills of BoMs have played a key—and often underestimated—role in helping advisors weather the changes, experts say. They insist a good manager’s guidance and perspective remain critical to helping advisors grow their businesses in a variety of ways— one of the most effective of which is strategic team-building.

Though it is not a new phenomenon— and its many virtues have been widely extolled—the formation of top-notch FA teams is still considered where much of the industry’s potential for growth lies, Jeffrey Rohwer, head of field development and talent management at UBS, told Registered Rep. in an interview last year. Rohwer said that teams at UBS were 20 to 30 percent more productive than solo practices, and had significantly larger asset bases.

However, if advisors want to become part of a team, and they’ve never been part of one before, it’s hard for them to know what it’s supposed to look like, Palaveev says; or even reckon what they can do to make it work. “And, there’s no one-size-fits-all method for creating a team. The branch manager’s experience can be so critical here,” Palaveev says. “He has seen what has worked—and what has not—in so many aspects of so many different teams. The branch manager can help create an optimal team structure—whether it’s horizontal [a grouping of equal partners] or vertical [a senior advisor at the top, overseeing newer producers, assistants etc.]. He can be a great asset in helping to determine things like how members might best be compensated, whether to combine advisors with complementary or duplicate strengths, whether to create a full-blown wealth management operation, the list goes on.”

And, when it comes to team-building, Palaveev says branch managers can be the greatest of all matchmakers. “They know their advisors far better than the advisors know one another. Consequently, they’re in the best position to see where truly successful and rewarding teams might be created.” However, team formation should never be pushed upon advisors, he says, because, in the end, it just won’t work. “There is a fine line between matchmaking and a shotgun wedding.”

There’s another double-edged sword branch managers face. “They are always looking to recruit top producers,” says Bruce Tulgan, president off Rainmaker Thinking, a management research and consulting firm in New Haven, and author of It’s Okay To Be The Boss (Harper Collins, 2007). “However, the entrepreneurial view of many of these folks is, ‘I do my own thing, and I don’t need a boss.’ But, unless they go independent, that’s a fallacy. They share in the many resources their branches and firms have to offer. There’s always some level of inter-dependency. And, this industry is incredibly competitive. BoMs can be invaluable by showing FAs how to manage their potential, pursue their own interests, and benefit from others in the branch—all without undermining one another’s businesses.”

Palaveev stresses that BOMs should not approach team-building—first and foremost—from a revenue standpoint. “I don’t want to generalize, because this industry has 20,000- 30,000 branch managers in some form or other,” he says. “But, historically, the job has first been about making sure the branch [meets projected] revenues. So, many advisors feel managers stress sales above all else—and that has lost managers a lot of credibility. BoMs need to tone that down and be a coach first, and a sales manager second.”

Another good thing about teams: “They can vastly increase retention of both advisors and clients,” Palaveev says. “Advisors looking for a change can’t help but be attracted to offices where retention rates-- and quality of life-- is high . BOM compensation is typically based more upon production and recruiting than on retention. But, retention can be the foundation all the rest, so perhaps the emphasis should be flipped.”