'Wow' rewards replace bonuses

High salaries and gifts prove more popular with staff than incentive compensation

Oct 6, 2013 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Against all logic, Janet Briaud made her employees at Briaud Financial Advisors happier by doing away with annual bonuses.

Instead, she upped salaries and awards quality work with items such as iPads for Christmas and trips to a chocolate factory or a limo ride.

“We do things that are 'wow' experiences as incentives rather than cash,” said Ms. Briaud, founder of the College Station, Texas-based advisory firm. “Employees were much happier with an iPad than they were with $5,000 bonuses.”

The focus that Briaud Financial Advisors places on offering high salaries instead of incentive compensation was one reason InvestmentNews named it an industry innovator.

The firm also has an especially diverse staff, with two of its three partners being women and a high number of female employees overall.

It has also made a strong commitment to hiring younger employees and developing talent.

The firm ranked 16th among the 77 top performing financial advisory practices identified in the 2013 InvestmentNews/Moss Adams Adviser Compensation and Staffing Study, with especially high marks for owner income and operating margin.

NICHE PRACTICE

Briaud Financial Advisors has carved out a niche for itself helping college professors with their special financial needs.

While most are from nearby Texas A&M University, the firm also has developed a national name for itself among professors as their clients have left Texas A&M but stayed with their adviser.

“Our focus on professors means most of our clients want things done but aren't very hands-on,” Ms. Briaud said. “They are passionate about whatever is their area of expertise, and it helps them to have someone managing their finances.”

The firm has structured itself so there are about two staff members for each of the four advisers, allowing it to make the best use of their advisers' time and resources.

The firm examines its budget monthly and reviews its margins annually. It is also careful about hiring decisions, sometimes taking up to a year to fill a position.

LEAN BUT STRONG

“We have done a good job of keeping things lean and having enough support people and not too many advisers,” said Natalie Pine, a partner at Briaud Financial Advisors and Ms. Briaud's daughter.

The decision to do away with cash bonuses came after studying the companies that are considered great to work for, Ms. Pine said.

Instead of cash, the partners try to think of things that will provide a memorable experience for employees.

“Now with our 'bonuses', we try to do something with them or for them that they wouldn't do for themselves,” she said.

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