Yes, you can work at a big firm and have a life

Thu Sep 20, 2012 2:24pm EDT

A man watches the skyline of Shanghai from the Shanghai Financial Center building, October 25, 2011. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

A man watches the skyline of Shanghai from the Shanghai Financial Center building, October 25, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria

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(Reuters) - Finding work-life balance is elusive for most advisers managing the demands of running a practice at a traditional wealth management firm.

The constant pressure to be on call for clients, to reel in new ones and deal with back-office demands means many advisers typically log 60-hour weeks.

Companies that offer steady, but typically lower, pay are one option for escape. But some advisers say they're making a good living working about 30 hours a week in a traditional setting thanks to a vigilant approach to time management and a willingness to delegate.

Plenty of advisers say that limiting the number of hours you are available to work isn't conducive to success in the business.

"You need to be available when your clients need you, and you don't know when that will be," said Ric Edelman, an adviser whose Fairfax, Virginia-based Edelman Financial Services, manages $8 billion in client assets. "I don't believe you can be a successful adviser if you only work 40 hours a week."

That may depend on how you measure success. While they may never become top producers and enjoy the company perks of that inner circle, advisers who downshift say that's an acceptable sacrifice.

"There are a lot of great advisers out there, but there can only be one great mom for my kids," said Ginger Ewing, an adviser at Ameriprise Financial and a mother of six children - including three recently adopted - who works 30 hours a week. "I have the ability to create a business that allows me to have that balance."

PRIORITIES

The first step to cutting hours is deciding how much time you need for your personal life.

The most productive use of your time is talking to clients or new prospects. Focusing on this will motivate you to delegate other tasks to your staff, said Chuck Wachendorfer, a coach to financial advisers and chief operating officer of the Minneapolis-based Lennick Aberman Group, a consulting firm.

But what about the full inbox and a pile of papers to sign?

Divide the overall annual revenue you bring in by the number of hours you work to find out roughly how much an hour of your time is worth. Say it's $250 an hour. The next time you spend half an hour sorting out paperwork, ask yourself if that was really worth $125 to you.

You could hire someone at a fraction of that rate to handle the paperwork and spend a few minutes reviewing it for accuracy.

That kind of calculation motivated Ameriprise's Ewing, who manages $50 million in client assets, to outsource email management to her staff. They put red flags on emails that require her attention and green flags on ones she might like to see but aren't urgent. She skips emails without a flag.

You can also cut down on distractions by time blocking, said Matt Halloran, president of Kalamazoo, Michigan-based Top Advisor Coaching. For instance, block out specific half-hour periods every day to check email, and other times to meet clients or review documents.

Some big brokerages, under pressure to attract a diverse group of advisers, are increasingly willing to create flexible work situations.

Raymond James Financial Inc allows its advisers who get the permission of their direct managers to work from home or have flexible hours, said Tash Elwyn, president of Raymond James & Associates' private client group, the company's employee-brokerage division.

Merrill Lynch offers work-from-home programs and part-time jobs.

Technology is also helping. Both Raymond James and Edward Jones let advisers use mobile devices, like iPads, to make it easier to work remotely.

ECONOMIC SACRIFICES

Before you trim your hours remind yourself: your income will suffer.

You'll probably have to cull clients who are more work than they're worth - which will hurt your bottom line in the short term. And because you're delegating tasks to your staff, you may spend more on salaries than the typical adviser.

Guy Weinhold, an Edward Jones adviser based in Bee Cave, Texas, said his $60 million practice could probably be about 50 percent bigger if he had worked more than 30 hours to 40 hours a week over the last decade.

But his flexible schedule has allowed him to travel the world watching his daughter, Ashley Weinhold, a 23-year-old tennis pro, play in the U.S. Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open tournaments. The office is always on his mind when he's away, but he'd rather be working remotely than watching his daughter's career from afar, he said.

"I've kind of put growing my business as the second or third priority, and family first," he said.

(Reporting By Jennifer Hoyt Cummings; Editing by Walden Siew, Jennifer Merritt and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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