Changing firms after almost 30 years

Advisor explains why, nearing his 4th decade in practice, he decided to make a change

Changing firms after almost 30 years

After 28 years as an advisor with Manulife Securities, Jeff Keller made the biggest switch of his career. The Stratford, On. based advisor had been with Manulife from essentially the start of his career, building his business from the ground up on the strength of his relationships. He built strong relationships within his firm, and served his clients well as a Manulife advisor, but a little less than two years ago he decided it was time for a switch.

Jeff Keller moved to CI Assante, driven by a simple goal: to free up more time for his clients. While he welcomes the slew of regulatory and compliance changes the industry has gone through in recent years, he found that for every hour he spent with clients he was spending almost three on the back-end. When he decided to move away from Manulife, Keller wanted a firm that could support a more streamlined, efficient business. While he admits he’s still in the “honeymoon phase” with Assante, he thinks he’s found the firm he needed.

“My number of meetings has doubled. I’m seeing more people, which is what I’m supposed to be doing,” Keller says. “Even my staff, who had used the same system for 25 years, are really enjoying it. My compliance requirements have not changed, but Assante has just found a way to make technology help the advisor, whereas a lot of other dealers out there are trying to find technology to help the compliance department make sure advisors are following all the rules.”

Keller notes that Assante’s transition loan was among the lowest available, and accepts he wasn’t motivated to move for any short-term gain, nevertheless he thinks the cost and trouble of the move were well worth it.

Onboarding is one area where Keller has noted a huge improvement in efficiency. He can bring in a prospect, enter their data on the in-house CRM and the moment that prospect becomes a client, their data is immediately integrated into account opening forms. Those forms are then sent to the client via DocuSign for an e-signature, Keller can then sign the forms on his end and a one-day onboarding process has turned into 15 minutes.

The tech stack Keller can now access has an additional advantage for his practice. Southwestern Ontario is quite rural, and he has clients from a few small towns in the area. In past years when a client in Goderich asked to make a deposit Keller might have to drive there and back, losing about half his day in the process. Now he can conduct a review over the phone or on Teams, do a reverse EFT and a half-day task turned into 15 minutes.

Tech has helped Keller out on the back end too. His client meeting notes are now all integrated into his CRM, which his branch manager has access to at any time. At his last firm, Keller’s branch manager would pick a random account and ask for notes, which resulted in a Byzantine process of copying and pasting from one platform into another.

Keller has also enjoyed a greater degree of independence since joining Assante. At his prior firm, he says, branch managers were treated as your boss. Now he feel even more independent. In searching for a new firm Keller briefly considered one of the banks, but found that he would have ended up as even more of an employee of the bank. He says he wants to remain an employee of his clients and nobody else, and at Assante he feels that he can play that role.

Despite the positives, the change was not without its challenges. Keller notes that the stress he felt leading up to the move was “unreal.” While he’s overall happy with his tech stack, he notes that some of the reporting and portfolio statements lack the detail he got at Manulife. His team, too, have all had to learn new systems and develop new habits. While he’s overjoyed to be at Assante, he says he would not want to go the process of another switch again.

In explaining the switch to his clients, Keller was upfront and honest with them. He explained the pressures he was under with regulatory and compliance work and outlined why he was going to be moving to Assante. The vast majority of those clients told him, effectively, that so long as he was their advisor they didn’t care what firm he was with.

While Keller is very happy to have switched to Assante, he notes that every advisor is different and has different needs and pain points. Rather than emulating his example, he thinks advisors seeking a change should, first and foremost, do the hard work of finding out which firm might be a fit for them.

“Do your homework, talk to people who have made the switch one on one,” Keller says when asked what he would suggest other advisors do. “I get one or two calls a week from former colleagues asking how it’s gone. If you can talk to people who have actually done the switch from the dealer you’re at it’s even better because it’s easy to compare. The other thing is patience. It doesn’t happen overnight, but if I didn’t move I would have retired very soon. Now that I’ve moved, it’s given me a new lease on life.”