A year ago, as The Strategic Financial Alliance celebrated its tenth anniversary, the firm was in as strong a position as it had ever been. Since that time, SFA has gone on to greater success and has undertaken several new initiatives. Today, SFA continues to enjoy an outstanding reputation for empowering the independent, doing whatever it takes to support our Advisors and facilitate their entrepreneurialism and, above all, to assist their focus on providing outstanding service to their clients.
Looking ahead to 2015, we sat down with SFA President Clive Slovin to review the year just past, discuss the firm’s ongoing evolution, and glean some of his thoughts about what lies ahead.
Question: Looking back over 2014, what were some of the highlights of the year for SFA?
Clive Slovin: This past year was all about building for the future. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a tremendously busy year – even though our Advisors haven’t yet seen many of the results of our labor. Soon, however, we expect to unveil several exciting changes and innovative enhancements on which we have been hard at work all year long.
First, our infrastructure is about to undergo some dramatic changes. In the coming weeks, SFA will unveil new technology solutions, for which the implementation is already well underway. We will unveil our updated company website, too, which will feature a variety of improvements and further display our refreshed corporate branding. As part of our rebranding effort, by the way, I hope everyone takes a moment to review our newly revised Vision and Mission statements, (the next tab in this newsletter,) which reaffirm our company’s core values and our fundamental reasons for being in business.
Further down the line, we will introduce a revamped and revitalized advisory platform. Its enhanced capabilities, including a more robust RIA offering to equal the well-established strength of our broker-dealer facility, will augment the ability of our advisors to successfully meet the needs of all their clients.
On the product side, Advisors will see several new additions and improvements. With insurance products becoming more important, SFA recently formed a partnership with Ash Brokerage to complement our current relationship with iTrust Advisors to give advisors multiple options to meet their clients’ insurance needs.
The old solutions that we had in place served us well for the last 10 years. But advisors rely on us to stay nimble and responsive to changes within the industry, and these enhancements are necessary to help them to run better businesses and meet the needs of their clients. In time, the total breadth of these changes will become readily apparent, and we are excited to hear everyone’s feedback once they are fully introduced.
Q: We’ve seen some new faces at SFA, too, who have been driving these changes, and some of our current people have been taking on new roles. Who might we mention?
Clive Slovin: We enlisted Paige Kerr to be our VP of Advisor Relations. Paige’s sole responsibility is to be a dedicated advocate for the advisor, and this is the first time we have had someone solely assigned to that role. And I want to mention Stephanie Schiele, our Marketing Communications Manager, who has taken on increasing responsibilities and shown strong leadership in helping to make our soon-to-be introduced offerings a reality as well as in strengthening our product sponsor relationships. This year, we also brought in LaRee Holloway as our new Vice President of Finance, and she has been a significant force behind the scenes for getting things accomplished.
The Strategic Advisory Council has also played a critical part this year in making SFA better and solidifying its future. The SAC has been an important sounding board for our senior leadership team, allowing us to vet ideas and gain invaluable feedback from the field, to improve the level of service we provide our advisors and, by extension, their clients. I want to compliment Don Snyder, the SAC’s chairman, for his dedication and leadership. The selflessness of this group of advisors has been very commendable, helping to fulfill the council’s mission, which is to make all the practices within the network stronger – not just their own.
Q: Does SFA intend to grow by recruiting additional advisors? If so, what type of advisors is SFA seeking?
Clive Slovin: Top to bottom, our advisor force is as strong as it has ever been, and we will focus on maintaining SFA as a cohesive alliance of advisors with a high level of performance, values, and compatibility. With the previously discussed infrastructure improvements, including those almost in place, and with significant additional platform enhancements in the works, there will be considerable opportunity for growth.
But we will approach growth smartly, always keeping in mind the uniqueness of the SFA culture and the special emphasis that our advisors place on serving the client. When we look for opportunities to expand our ranks, finding advisors who fit well within this cultural framework will always trump other considerations, including production rates or the size of our firm.
Ultimately, we are in business to create a home for the independent advisor who is passionate about client service. Because of this, we will never be a home to all advisors – but we will be a home to be proud of, and a place where we can be comfortable and productive.
Q: How has the industry overall changed during the past year, and what will these changes mean for SFA?
Clive Slovin: For the most part, the major issues that existed a year ago still exist today. For example, we still operate in a highly regulated environment, and that trend will only continue to gain momentum. The scrutiny from regulators is intense, and the competitive and financial pressures to comply are enormous.
The industry is still trying to get the Department of Labor to back off from its attempts to have its own definition of “Fiduciary” for ERISA and IRA accounts. Unrelated to that, there are constant attempts for Congress to permanently have the IRS to recognize the independent contractor status of independent financial advisors. We hope that both of these matters will be favorably resolved by the new Congress in 2015.
Even as regulations have become more and more burdensome, we like to think that our consistently good compliance record and our thorough due diligence processes are important and differentiating factors in SFA’s value proposition, and help to attract people to our firm. We attempt to relieve as much of the regulatory burden from our Advisors as possible, although we can never remove it entirely; compliance will always be a significant area of responsibility that all Advisors must carefully attend to.
Our product due diligence continues to be thorough and careful. There’s no question that alternative investments are an important focus for us, and our community of Advisors prizes our ability to deliver innovative, high-quality, and unique products and solutions, while at the same time effectively managing risk.
Another trend over the years has been increased consolidation. That’s still happening, but I’ve been around long enough to know that consolidation will always occur. I also know that, even though the barriers to entry might be higher today than they have been in the past, there will always be room within our space for boutique firms with a strong personal touch, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a clear value proposition. And that’s really what separates SFA from other firms – we have a nimble business, led by experienced professionals who can spot new opportunities and quickly react to the needs of our advisors and their clients.