Like many of our top 20 program managers, Ken Wren Jr. attributes his success to a team effort. His inclusion in our list, he says, is more a reflection of the quality of financial advisors at TowneBank as well as its supportive management team and board. As such, he gives his colleagues wide latitude: "We do not dictate product or process to our advisors; each of them is passionate about their business. We try to provide a supportive environment."
The bank has advisors who are very hands on at picking stocks and funds, and others who are bigger advocates of managed account platforms, he says. But ultimately, they are all experienced and passionate about how they manage their client assets.
One of the hardest things about the job these days is keeping current with an ever-changing compliance landscape. Wren says he feels fortunate to have a full-time compliance and operations person who was formerly an internal auditor. "She really stays on top of all the day-to-day compliance activities," he says.
Wren joined his father in 1994 at a small regional firm where Ken Wren Sr.-a champion stock- and fund-picker who chose not to assume a management role-had been since 1974. The father and son stayed until 2004, and then joined TowneBank, where they founded the investment group with Drew Bolling, Patti Gilbert and Amy Demeter. Since then, the group has grown from $260 million in assets to almost $800 million.
Wren maintains that one of the biggest changes during his career in the financial industry has been the convergence of banking and brokerage. Many of the investment firm names from the first days of his career are either gone or have been acquired by a bank, he notes. But that confluence has not only lead to more than simply a host of new corporate names, it has also created one of the major sticking points in this industry, he says. As banks have moved further into investment advice and asset management, a channel conflict has arisen that is confusing to clients and creates competition internally.
At many banks, there are now three different channels. However, TowneBank has gone in the other direction, streamlining the process by maintaining a single channel. As such, Wren and his team can focus on the clients' best interests, he says. "It really comes down to treating the clients' money like it were your own."
For example, he recalls a client who recently asked about moving a managed mutual fund account to a variable annuity with a guarantee of lifetime income. "After a thorough review with the client, it became apparent he had no plan to use the assets for income. In fact, he wasn't likely to use the one annuity he owned for income," Wren says. "We recommended keeping the managed fund account at lower expense as the additional fee [to the client] for the income guarantee was not in his best interest. Our revenue would have been higher if we had made the change, but it did not meet the client's need."
Bank/TPM:TowneBank/ Raymond James
Location: Suffolk, Va.
No. of reps managed: 5
Avg. production per rep: $875,013
Total production 2011 (projected): $4.4m
Total production 2010: $3.9m
AUM 2011: $761m
AUM 2010: $631m
Years at the bank: 7
Years in the industry: 17
Age of program: 7
Total number of branches: 18
Product mix: Managed accounts 32%; mutual funds 26%; equities 19%; VAs 13%; fixed income 9%; fixed annuities 1%
Do you decide what products are on the shelf? No