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Seven areas where smaller advisory firms are doing better, according to employees

Which employees find clearer opportunities for advancement?

May 15, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

By Matt Sirinides

Below are seven statements from our "Best Places to Work for Financial Advisers" employee engagement survey where staff at small independent advisory firms (15-29 headcount) were more likely to agree, rating their organization more positively, than staff at larger firms (50+ headcount). Agreement rates are high overall — these are winning firms, after all — but variances, even at such lofty levels of positive perception, can point to winning advantages for firms in growth mode.

All "Best Places" winners, by three firm size categories, are represented below, as are the firms who applied to the program but did not land in the top 50.

Statement Small Employers that made the list Medium Employers that made the list Large Employers that made the list All Employers not on the list % Difference Between Small & Large Employers
Staffing levels are adequate to provide quality products/services 94.1% 90.4% 84.6% 69.2% 9.4%
One of the biggest gaps in employee sentiment between large and small winners? Their perception of their firm's capacity. This was also the biggest gap between winners on non-winners – underscoring capacity constraints as a prime issue not just for firms wishing to spur growth, but also for employees who are saddled with high workload.
I am encouraged to explore growth or advancement opportunities within the organization 92.9% 89.8% 84.4% 78.2% 8.6%
According to the 2017 InvestmentNews Compensation & Staffing Study, larger firms are more likely to provide a career trajectory for advisers and administrative employees and hold regular performance evaluations for all staff. Despite this, employees at smaller firms see clearer opportunities for advancement. This could potentially be because large firms have both a higher number and higher ratio of administrative employees, who may not always have a clear route to the more-rewarded advisory career track.
Overall, I'm satisfied with this organization's benefits package 93.8% 92.6% 86.1% 79.3% 7.7%
While firms of all sizes carry strong benefits, there are a few areas where smaller firms excel that may explain the divide we see in employee satisfaction with firm benefits, including flexible hours (71% of smaller firms offer them, vs. 46% of larger firms). They are more likely to match retirement contributions (83% vs. 69%). And work-life balance policies tended to be stronger as well.
Training: (1) This organization provided as much initial training as I needed | (2) This organization provides as much ongoing training as I need. 92.0% | 95.1% 90.4% | 92.5% 84.7% | 88.4% 79.7% | 81.5% 7.3% | 6.7%
There were consistent gaps between staff at small and large firms regarding the overall adequacy of both initial and ongoing training, which was surprising given that in the 2017 InvestmentNews Compensation & Staffing Study, larger firms were more likely to offer formal training for advisory and leadership functions. It may be, however, that in areas such as technology, compliance and other administrative functions, where there are more complex systems at larger organizations, that training is more difficult to maintain.
I have a good understanding of how this organization is doing financially 91.2% 86.3% 84.0% 71.6% 7.2%
After training, the category where there was the highest level of variance between small and large firms was in corporate culture and communications, and employees' understanding of the level of financial success achieved by their firm saw the greatest disconnect. Larger firms rely on managers, who are sometimes removed from the highest rungs of ownership themselves, to communicate how their performance as a group fits within the larger organization. Many firms, Best Place or no, have no doubt experienced the heady growth the industry has seen over the past decade, but some of their staff (30% of staff at firms not named a Best Place!) – don't have a good handle on the facts of performance.
I am able to maintain a reasonable balance between work and my personal life 97.1% 95.9% 90.2% 84.5% 7.0%
Firms large and small were similarly likely to offer family-friendly benefits like flexible work hours and paternity leave, but smaller firms were more likely to stress benefits that promote a healthy work-life balance, and it shows in their employees' sentiment. They are twice as likely to offer time management or productivity seminars (46% vs. 23%), limit meetings and staff events to work hours only (75% vs. 62%), and consciously keep overtime to a minimum. Large firms, meanwhile, are more likely to offer their employees stress management seminars (62% vs. 38%).
*Numbers shown represent the percentage of respondents that answered "Agree Somewhat" and "Agree Strongly"

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