The job of a program manager has never been more important. On one side, they’re dealing with banks that are still facing a tough time with interest income and, consequently, on the hunt to increase fee income. On the other, they’re dealing with a talent shortage and major disruptions brought on by technology.

Even at a very basic level, the idea of bank brokerage is a difficult mix. One side is driven by numbers; the other defined by trust and relationships. Whether a program manager worked for years as an advisor, or was a top lieutenant of a bank president and took on added responsibility, they can find themselves inhabiting the ground between banks and their investment programs.

For our annual Top 20, we scoured the industry to find the ones who succeed in this tough environment. Our top program manager this year (warning: spoiler alert) is Paul Restante from Community Bank in Syracuse, N.Y. He’s been on our list before, but never as the top manager. In an interview, he discusses the balance he tries to strike between technology and face-to-face customer service.

He also treats his advisors like professionals, allowing them to make the shift to fee business slowly if they choose. But overall, they are definitely making that shift, with 65% of his program’s revenue coming from fees now.

Other topics that continually surfaced in our conversations with the winners were the importance of making referrals to the bank, not just taking them, as well as offering their advisors latitude in the job wherever possible.

To compile our list, we once again used multiple variables and combined them into a weighted average. Specifically, we used six factors: (1) total team assets under management; (2) growth of team assets; (3) growth of team annual production; (4) average production per advisor; (5) number of full-time advisors the program manager directly supervises; and (6) number of licensed branch employees under their supervision. The number of LBEs didn’t get as much weight as the other variables. Also, in some cases, we used our own estimates of production-per-advisor by dividing team production by the average number of advisors year-over-year. Three of the six variables did not depend on size, but rather on efficiency and growth, which we would argue are signs of good management.

We have several return winners, including last year’s top manager Agnes Lew of East West Bank, Scott Jenner from First Tech Credit Union and Gary Collier from Pinnacle. We also have a few new faces on this year’s list, such as First Midwest Bank’s Kristen Vitale.

Following the Top 20, we’ve included the Next 30, which shows those managers who ranked 21 through 50 in our final list. For a more thorough look at all 50 winners, check our site for extra rankings and analysis.

 

1.  Paul Restante, Community Bank, Invest Financial

At seminars and industry meetings, Paul Restante hears the concern about robo advisors sprouting up unexpectedly like dandelions in a field. Younger clients are gravitating toward automated brokerage advisory options on the web, as the narrative goes. But to him, the threat remains small.

“Maybe I’m dead wrong, but I don’t think our industry has boiled down to a commodity,” says the managing director at Community Bank, and head of its investment program in Dewitt, NY. “I could have said the same thing 15 years ago when they began selling our products on the Internet. Everyone thought the industry would go backward. But it hasn’t.”

Lest anyone think Restante is out of touch with Generation X and Y, he stays in touch with his 21-year-old son—graduating from Oneonta State University this spring—by  texts. He also has a daughter attending Oswego State University.

The best approach for advisors, he feels, straddles the line between digital and face-to-face communication. He believes clients want to interact through more digital channels, and certainly have more digital product options online today. But he also feels that investors still want a human connection, someone who will help them focus on their financial priorities.

The other shift he sees is the common move to a fee-based model. “That’s always been a challenge in bank programs,” says Restante about how advisors and clients have typically worked together. “A bank broker has typically been a transactional sales person, which didn’t lend itself to a fee-based practice.”

Since joining Community Bank in 2010, Restante has focused on that shift, working with his 32 financial consultants (the title that Community Bank uses for its advisors) to focus more on delivering advice rather than just selling products—and getting paid for that relationship and service.

His effort appears to be working, with Restante stating that 65% of his program’s overall revenue is based on the fee advisory business and not on transactional business.

Knowing the shift could not happen overnight, Restante started first with his more seasoned advisors, reviewing their clients’ accounts and analyzing who would be better suited to a fee-based model. Viewing the advisors as “my clients,” Restante did not make them abruptly choose one option over another, but rather had them slowly transition from products to service over time. He also hired newer advisors to staff Community Bank’s branches, as he shifted more experienced team members to a consultant model.

“We’ve actually been able to provide more coverage,” he says. “Younger financial consultants have more time to cut their teeth and do more day to day for the branches.”

Still, Restante is quick to admit that as a bank-based wealth management division, transactions are never going to disappear—nor can they. He states that on average 30% of his team’s revenue produced on an annual basis is attributed to bank referrals—one-third of their draw. For clients closer to retirement age, variable annuities and other insurance-based products can make sense in their overall financial planning as well.

“My bank president calls it the two-way street,” says Restante. “If my financial consultants accept financial referrals, then they’d better be referring insurance, loans and other business back to the commercial bank...If they’re not doing that, I have a conversation with them.”

 

2.  Tim Sease, South State Bank, LPL   

For Tim Sease and his team of advisors at South State Bank in Charleston, S.C., taking care of clients means being accessible and paying attention to the little things—like someone in the office answering the phone by the third ring and sending hand-written thank-you notes.

“We’re trying to do what clients have told us over the years they really like, and having someone answer the phone is important,” Sease says. “We are relentless at doing the little things well when it comes to serving our clients.”

Despite their dedication to their customers, Sease  and his team strive to temper the demands of the job. “It’s extremely important to us to be available to our clients when they need that advice and guidance. But there is a balance to it. We think one of the ways that you can attract and retain talented folks is to empower them to be flexible around work-life balance.”

Indeed, his team’s average tenure is nearly a decade. One reason they stay is the collaboration, he says, which entails asking questions, seeking the team’s input and including them in the process of determining best practices. “We think there’s a lot we can learn from each and every market we serve.”

The Seases often spend their vacations at golf resorts, playing the same courses as the professionals.    

 

3. Denise Togger, Union Bank, Raymond James

With a mission to attract more high-net-worth investors to Union Investment Services, Denise Togger knows she and her 23 advisors can’t stumble. Overseeing their clients’ financial lives doesn’t end with their financial needs—but extends through every interaction with her team, and the bank as well.

“The emerging high-net-worth realm wants more of a partnership relationship,” says the senior vice president and branch manager. “It’s a complete way of doing business.”

A former advisor herself, Togger joined Union Bank in 2003, growing the business from about $200 million in assets under management to nearly $1 billion today. Her attention to growth remains, but now her focus is on developing a more goal-based planning practice to better tie clients, particularly those who are affluent, to their advisors.

Togger wants to transform her reps into financial allies—and not just salespeople who can help open an IRA. She believes her efforts will link investors more deeply to advisors—and also to the financial institution, and its resources, which support them.

“We see it as a tremendous opportunity to deliver our values and core beliefs. We think that’s going to help differentiate us.”      

 

4.  Kristen Vitale, First Midwest Bank, LPL

When First Midwest Bank acquired Popular Community Bank last summer, program manager Kristen Vitale worked to make the transition for Popular’s two advisors a smooth one. She met with them to discuss their concerns, such as geographic territory and compensation. To deal with compensation, which at First Midwest is commission based, Vitale grandfathered in the advisors’ prior pay structure for one year. Seven months after the advisors joined First Midwest, Vitale has yet to tweak geographic coverage.

“I thought it was important to give them the latitude to acclimate with the culture and the new systems, and to take the fear out of the unknown as much as I could. There’s no need to change everything right away. At some point we’ll realign [the geographic coverage] and make it more efficient. But in the meantime, we’re just getting everybody comfortable,” she says.

First Midwest is growing at a time when demand for financial advisor services outstrips supply and her overall strategy is to be their career move. “You can’t just have a cookie cutter approach—I have a diverse group, at all different levels of experience, and I help them prioritize what’s important for them. I want this to be their last stop, whether they’re 50 or 25"

 

5.  Scott Jenner, First Tech C.U. Addison Ave., Raymond James

Scott Jenner knows the value of a successful advisor—and the challenges in retaining them. That’s why he gives his top people a voice in the way he runs Addison Avenue Investment Services. “Decisions have to benefit the enterprise, but also [advisors],” says the president and CEO of First Tech Credit Union’s investment arm. “I want them to help me create the business we will live in 10 years down the road.” His summit group, a team of his eight top advisors, is given a chance to view decisions with an eye from the management side—which Jenner believes engenders transparency and builds trust.

One example came when he and management proposed new changes to the commission grid. This allowed the group to buy into the reasons for the strategy shift—and explain the new direction to the rest of the team. “There is a lot to be said for receiving buy-in and support from your advisors ahead of strategic or directional changes,” he says. “This process helps creates disciples for the change.” His methods appear to be working: Assets under management have grown 10% in the past year to $3 billion, and the group is set to generate about $20 million in revenue. Just as germane? Jenner hasn’t had an advisor defect in more than two years.

 

6.   Agnes Lew, East West Bank, Cetera

Agnes Lew works with bank management to ensure that the missions of the bank and the investment division are aligned. That includes becoming a trusted advisor to clients and providing services that go beyond banking. In managing a global team, she aims to provide seamless banking to clients in the U.S. and China amid a grueling travel schedule. Our No. 1 manager last year, Agnes is loyal to her advisors and expects them to provide the same dedication to their clients.

 

7.  Glenn Brodwater, Investors Bank, Essex National Securities

Glenn Brodwater came to Investors Bank four years ago to build an investment program from scratch. He now oversees 23 advisors and 86 LBEs. In contrast to many start-up programs, which often see revenue flatten after adding staff, Investors had its best growth in 2014 even while adding just two new advisors and 11 LBEs. He works hard to integrate the growing program into the bank’s overall culture.

 

8.  Vance Richard, Iberia Bank, Essex National Securities

Iberia Bank has a diversified customer base, from blue-collar to high-net-worth and Vance Richard tries to match an advisor’s personality to the clientele within a specific market. Ongoing education is a priority so he invites wholesalers to discuss products in their monthly meetings. Vance conducts an extensive evaluation of each advisor annually, reviewing their revenue produced, product mix, compliance requirements and complaints. His program was named ENSI’s top producer last year.

 

9.  Robert Carr, Central Bank, Invest Financial

Central BankBob Carr’s background as a producing advisor gives him the perspective to know what’s important to his team.  In addition to monthly team calls, he meets one-on-one with advisors, and focuses on new members to help them get established. Bob emphasizes that referrals are a two-way street and that the way to get more is to give more.

 

10.  Nick Bellino, First National Bank, Cetera

Nick Bellino is responsible for developing and executing strategic initiatives for First National Bank. With more than 25 years of sales and management experience within bank distribution channels, he has gained the experience he needs to help his advisors face their daily challenges.

 

11.  Michael Zito, Trustmark National Bank, LPL

Mike Zito and his team spend a lot of time networking inside of the organization to ensure they’re creating a favorable environment for cross-referral opportunities. In turn, Trustmark has a large bankwide cross-selling initiative that has a positive impact on the program by making sure qualified folks are referred to the program.

 

12.  Steve Kruchten, Bremer Bank, Raymond James

Steve Kruchten spends much of his time addressing the benefits of having stronger relationships with the bankers and their customers. Last year, his biggest initiative was to capture more market share within the bank’s mass-affluent client segment by working with other departments to expand relationships with clients not doing business with the brokerage unit.

 

13.  Louis Mastropietro, Astoria Federal Savings Bank, LPL

Lou Mastropietro divided the program into three territories each led by a sales manager and he worked hard in 2014 to deepen the relationship with senior managers of the institution. He was also able to influence the bank’s incentive plan to focus more on the investment and insurance program. 

 

14.   Michael George, Fulton Bank, Raymond James

As president of Fulton Financial Advisors, Michael George is responsible for revenue growth, operational efficiency, service standards and risk mitigation for the division. He works hard to give advisors the resources they need to deliver value to their clients, while driving strategic direction for the firm.

 

15.  John Olerio, Webster Bank, LPL

As program manager, John Olerio oversaw Webster Bank’s ‘’Getting to the Next Level” campaign last year. It entailed three efforts: a 401k initiative, which brought in $50 million in assets; LPL’s WealthVision financial planning package; and a call center to focus on writing life insurance and small investment sales.

 

16.  Craig Snyder, America Group, LPL

Craig Snyder believes in mentoring his advisors to understand that they control their own destiny.  He provides a proactive environment where advisors can join together to share best practices. Craig personally provides practice management coaching to each of his advisors and program managers.

 

17.  Gary Collier, Pinnacle Bank, Raymond James

Gary Collier attributes much of the program’s success to the entrepreneurial-minded advisors he has hired as well as the bank’s collaborative environment. He encourages advisors to market themselves at places they enjoy, such as their church or local rotary club. Both he and Pinnacle are committed to retention and succession.

 

18.  Chad Waddoups, Mountain America Credit Union, LPL

MACU’s investment program allows advisors the latitude to personalize its customer approach so clients won’t get a cookie-cutter outcome when working with the team.  Chad Waddoups invites key colleagues from other areas to join their monthly meetings to ensure that they are up-to-date on other products.

 

19.  Matt Varney, Bank of Colorado, Raymond James

Matt Varney started Bank of Colorado’s advisory program in March 2000 with zero assets, one advisor and a client base with no access to broker/dealer services or products.  Under his guidance, the program has far exceeded the bank’s initial expectations. It has become  a profit center for the bank and strengthened bank clients’ loyalty. 

 

20.  Thomas Howard, BancorpSouth, Infinex

Thomas Howard believes advisors need a coach more than a boss. He strives to be a source of best practices, ideas, and product solutions, while encouraging them to share ideas and frustrations. Thomas communicates as much as possible about the future of the program, believing the more advisors know, the more effective they’ll be.

  

MORE OF THE BEST

These program managers were ranked 21 through 50 in our final analysis. View the slideshow here.

21. Kenneth Ellspermann, Old National Bank, LPL

22. Steven LeCoultre, Bankers Bank, LPL

23. Jack Nelson, Johnson Bank, Invest Financial

24. Pete Snyder, Golden 1 Credit Union, LPL

25. Rebecca Nilsen, Desert Schools Federal Credit Union, LPL

26. Fred Greene, Woodforest National Bank, Raymond James

27. Sean Tesoro, Salem Five Bank, LPL

28. Tim Bush, Bell State Bank & Trust, Cetera Financial

29. Dan Overbey, Atlantic Capital Advisors, LPL

30. Ken Wren Jr. TowneBank, Raymond James

31. Douglas Wicks, Kinecta Federal Credit Union, LPL

32. Melissa Ekeberg, United Community Bank, Invest Financial

33. Dan Anderson, MainSourceBank, Raymond James

34. John Taylor, Liberty Bank, Raymond James

35. Jim McCrudden, Citadel Federal Credit Union, CUSO

36. Tommy Lee Jr. PriorityOne Bank, Raymond James

37. Kenneth Weinstein, Newtown Savings Bank, Infinex Investments

38. James Badge, DFCU Financial, CUSO

39. Kim Scalzitti, MB Financial Bank, Cetera Financial Institutions

40. Todd Phillips, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, Invest Financial

41. David Wick, Heartland Financial, LPL

42. Jeffrey Thatcher, Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union, LPL

43. Matthew Snively, Elements Financial Federal Credit Union, LPL

44. Teodor Trandafir, Partners Federal Credit Union, LPL

45. Larry Squires, Wilson Bank & Trust, Raymond James

46. Lauretta Kramer Sandy Spring Bank, LPL

47. Cheryl Sutter, American National Bank of Texas, LPL

48. Amy Proctor, Texas Bank & Trust, Raymond James

49. Thomas Decker, Space Coast Credit Union, LPL

50. Todd Shobert, Washington State Employees Credit Union, LPL

 

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