Advisers go to extremes to avoid detection when looking for another job

They have asked for meetings in out-of-the-way hotels, dive bars and off the Jersey Turnpike

By Mason Braswell

Jan 23, 2014 @ 11:50 am (Updated 3:18 pm) EST

advisers, wirehouse, job

From hushed meetings in boutique Japanese hotels in Manhattan to a rendezvous at a Bob's Big Boy restaurant off the New Jersey Turnpike, the lengths to which financial advisers go when interviewing with competing firms can seem like something out of a spy novel.

In an industry where firms pay big money to attract and retain top talent, the stakes are often high for advisers who are considering a move.

“You can get fired for any reason, and if they know you're leaving they'll fire you fast,” said Danny Sarch, president of career consulting firm Leitner Sarch Consultants. “It's about protection and confidentially, and it's a big deal.”

The first meeting between the adviser and the branch manager or recruiter at the new firm is usually done outside the office. The key is to find a place that is discreet, far away from the branch and has very few distractions, industry career consultant Mark Elzweig said.

“Typically, the adviser chooses a place that is low-key, out of the way and just kind of comfortable,” he said.

One of Mr. Elzweig's favorite places to arrange meetings is a boutique Japanese hotel in New York. The clientele is mostly foreign business executives, so it is less likely that advisers will run into someone they know.

“It's a place that people wouldn't normally go to,” Mr. Elzweig said. “I thought they could find each other quickly because they were one of the few non-Japanese people.”

Mr. Elzweig has also had clients that went far out of the way, to a Bob's Big Boy burger joint off a random exit on the New Jersey Turnpike, for example. For the really nervous, he usually suggests that they set up the meeting in their home and have the branch manager or recruiter visit them there.

Advisers often choose restaurants and bars off the beaten path, said Rick Rummage, a founder of the Rummage Group.

He said that he has facilitated meetings in an Arby's, on a golf course and in dark dive bars.

One place was so dark that he got a complaint from the recruiting manager at the firm: “Rick, it was so dark I could barely see the guy,” the manager told him.

Mr. Rummage crossed that location off the list.

Another adviser with whom Mr. Rummage worked drove 100 miles to meet a branch manager, even though the branch manager offered to come to his town.

“The ones that are overly paranoid are the ones that do the odd things,” Mr. Rummage said. “They want to pick a place that they feel a client or other adviser would never go to, and that's where you get some weird locations.”

It also involves keeping the sales associate out of the loop, said Howard Diamond of career consulting firm Diamond Consultants Inc.

“Advisers may have trusted assistants who they don't say anything to until the day of the move,” he said. “Eventually, one person tells another person, and the next thing you know they're being terminated.”

Moving large adviser teams can be even more challenging, Mr. Diamond said.

That can require multiple individual meetings or renting out a private dining room at a steakhouse.

The work that goes into planning often becomes arduous, Mr. Diamond said.

“When an adviser is looking at another firm, another wirehouse or a different firm, it can become a full-time job,” he said. “You have to be organized, diligent, and you have to be careful.”