Advisory firms redesign their offices to attract millennial clients

Private offices and cubicles are a thing of the past at modern firms

Nov 6, 2016 @ 12:01 am

By Liz Skinner

Private offices are a thing of the past at advisory firm SignatureFD.

The 20-year-old practice moved two years ago and created a front-office area that feels more like a Starbucks than a financial services firm. Employees are encouraged to congregate up front so that when clients come in there's a lively, welcoming vibe. The firm also added a fireplace, created a clubhouse in the back and built equal-sized workspaces for every employee that encourage flexibility and collaboration.

“I like that I'm not stuffed into a cube, or office, feeling like I can't move,” said Jay Loyd, a 30-year-old senior planning associate at the firm.

Office redos like SignatureFD's are the latest way financial advisory firms are adjusting their businesses to appeal to and retain younger workers — and clients — who are millennials, now the nation's largest generation.

This technology-savvy group has a way of working and processing information that's different from even the Generation Xers who came before them. Collaboration is key for millennials, and that means the fewer physical walls, the better.

“Firms are redesigning their offices based on feedback from their millennial staff and clients who told them the settings they previously had were uncomfortable for them,” said George Tamer, managing director for strategic relationships at TD Ameritrade Institutional. “These folks have grown up hanging out with friends at Starbucks with their laptops and they want to see more of that at work.”

NO MAHOGANY DESKS

Millennials don't want to be in rooms where giant mahogany desks or tables separate them from clients or each other. They learned in school to work together in teams, and that's going to impact the way all offices are set up down the road, he said.

I like that I'm not stuffed into a cube, or office, feeling like I can't move.—Jay Loyd, planning associate at ignatureFD

The nation's 75 million millennials, who are between the ages of 19 and 35, already make up one-third of America's workforce, and much of the financial services industry has been experimenting with new models to appeal to them both as staff and clients. Capital One, for instance, has built cafes in several U.S. cities that offer up a little banking expertise for customers buying a latte.

SignatureFD founder Doug Liptak said the firm's office environment and culture have helped with recruiting and retention of employees.

Abacus Planning Group is another firm with a nontraditional feel, including conference rooms furnished with easy chairs rather than boardroom-style tables. The advisory firm does keep one meeting room old-school because some of its clients, age 80-plus, still prefer this more formal approach, said Cheryl Holland, the firm's president.

These clients would rather sit at a long table with sturdy chairs and have a place to put their briefcases, she said.

But Abacus also has open workspaces to encourage collaboration.

“Working next to the team, I can easily ask a question without getting up and knocking on someone's door,” said Eileen Stevens, 24, a financial adviser with the firm. “I'm a humongous fan of that, it makes everyone much more approachable.”

Of course, it isn't all about collaborating on work. The millennialization of offices also includes adding a few touches aimed at amusement because this group believes that working hard and playing hard should happen in tandem.

Abacus boasts a ping-pong table in the back room. SignatureFD's clubhouse does too, in addition to a foosball table and cornhole boards. Another advisory firm created a yoga room for its staff and clients.

Buckhead Investment Partners overhauled and expanded its offices about five months ago to create a more casual and comfortable space that has been a hit with all clients.

Candy water cooler in office

The firm focuses on high-net-worth individuals and families. Buckhead's management believes millennial clients will play a significant role at the firm long term, including the “staggeringly large transfer of wealth that is already under way from the baby boomers,” said Bob Pennington, president of the advisory firm.

Buckhead now has multiple spaces where small groups of people can work together, and a “lounge” in the middle of the office that includes a coffee bar.

“The interaction that the space is designed to facilitate has made a real difference,” Mr. Pennington said.

For instance, he recently watched as one employee bemoaned the volatility in the markets, while another who was passing through for coffee stopped to explain what the firm was doing in reaction.

“Conversations are taking place that normally wouldn't take place,” he said.

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