This article first appeared in the Memphis Business Journal June 12, 2020
Who or what is currently disrupting your business or industry right now?
Unsurprisingly, the coronavirus pandemic is the major disruptor in the Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) industry right now. The disruption comes in the form of both the economic/market impact it has had and the opportunities that creates, but also from an operations and best practices standpoint. Many firms did not adopt robust enough technology and business continuity processes to stay responsive to their clients in a crisis of this magnitude and duration. This unprecedented event will have unknown regulatory and operational implications for years to come.
What sets your company apart from your competitors?
Telarray is a 15-year-old wealth management firm founded on the market need for detailed financial planning and asset management that puts the client first. Observatory, our proprietary process and technology, allows us to analyze your entire financial life, build a plan and help you understand where you are and the path to where you want to be. We routinely hear from clients that we not only provide them with the answers that they are looking for – and quickly — but also provide options they were unaware were available to them.
How do you hire the right people?
Finding the right people is one of the most difficult challenges we face. For entry-level and junior positions, our partnership with the University of Memphis Professional Development Center at the Fogelman College of Business has provided a great way for us to identify and target talented graduates focused on their future and interested in staying in Memphis. We are fortunate to be of a size that allows us to paint a career path, all the way to becoming a partner and member of the firm. Our firm has a defined equity program in place and has launched an active succession plan that has proven instrumental in attracting new talent. We have very low turnover, so for professional positions we have historically relied on industry contacts, which leads to a slow process of getting to know someone well before we make them an offer. Many businesses in our industry tend to hire too quickly and release too slowly once it is apparent the relationship is not going to work out. That creates a lot of unnecessary pain and expense that we try to avoid.
Biggest challenge in your industry right now?
Internally, hiring and developing talent and maximizing technology are the two most pressing operational issues right now. Our firm invests heavily in professional development for our staff, including funding educational and licensing opportunities. Technology continues to shape our industry, and we adopt and deploy new technology to our infrastructure all the time. It is impossible to overstate how much more secure and robust our operations are because of it.
Externally, one of the biggest challenges we face as an industry is consolidation. We are seeing that at a custodial level between large firms that hold assets, like the recent acquisition of T.D. Ameritrade by Charles Schwab, as well as seeing a significant amount of merger and acquisition activity between various wealth management firms. There are also larger financial services groups with unique models purchasing portions of firms; some of these have already been active in the Memphis market. Many of the challenges of these consolidations are yet to be fully understood.
Advice you would give to professionals just getting started out in your industry?
I am passionate about helping those at the beginning of their career figure out their paths. The first thing someone getting into the wealth management industry should consider is whether they want to push products or to help people. Sometimes those two things can align, but often we see a conflict of interest that can result in products being sold to clients for whom they are not appropriate, just for the sake of earning commissions. If your mission is just to make money, selling products may be the route for you. If you want to help people, then working on a fee-only basis, which is what we practice at Telarray, is probably a better fit. At our firm, we tell clients what they need to hear without the pressure of selling particular financial products. It’s not always comfortable or easy, but it means you get to sleep well at night knowing you have served your clients with integrity.
How has your company responded during the COVID epidemic?
The ability of businesses like ours to respond and perform during the COVID pandemic will be the major story of our industry for years to come. I participate in some industry working groups and have relationships with other financial advisors around the country, and many firms are now paying a heavy price for not focusing on technology and business continuity. The team at Telarray has been preparing and practicing for an event like this for years, and that preparation paid off. We were able to seamlessly transition everyone to working at home while providing clients the level of service and responsiveness that they expect from us. How firms reacted during this time and their capability to continue to serve clients should be a question anyone asks when evaluating a potential financial advisor.