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[00:00:00] Matt Sonnen: Welcome back everyone, to Episode 20 of The COO Roundtable. I was on a call last week with Brian Hamburger of Hamburger Law Firm and MarketCounsel. He told me that he has banned all of his employees from saying things like, “Boy, these are crazy times, aren’t they?” Or, “Let’s just hope we get this behind us soon.” He made the point that remote work is the norm for the time being. We may be wearing masks in public for many months to come and we all should just focus on making the mental shift that this is our normal life for the time being and the sooner we accept it and adjust, the healthier we’re all going to be from a mental perspective. I thought that was a positive message. Instead of pointing out that once again, we are still sitting at home for today’s recording, I’m just going to say, “Welcome everyone. I’m sitting at my desk. It’s a beautiful day here in Los Angeles. We’ve got two fantastic guests joining us today. This is going to be a great discussion under our new normal conditions.” Here we go. Joining us today from Halbert Hargrove, headquartered in Long Beach, California is Cecilia Williams, their Director of Investment Operations and Chief Compliance Officer. Halbert Hargrove has, in addition to the headquarters, seven other offices in four states outside of California. Thank you for being here, Cecilia.

[00:01:23] Cecilia Williams: Thanks for having me, Matt. Excited.

[00:01:26] Matt Sonnen: Awesome. Joining Cecilia is Diane Gabianelli from Parallel Advisors, headquartered in San Francisco. Which also has offices in Denver, Honolulu, Dayton Ohio, and Oklahoma City. Diane is the Co-president and CFO. Welcome, Diane, thanks for being here.

[00:01:47] Diane Gabianelli: Thanks for having me, Matt.

[00:01:50] Matt Sonnen: Well, based on the sheer number of office locations and the multiple states that you’re both working out of, you obviously are working at larger than average RIAs. Cecilia, many people know Russ Hill, your CEO. He speaks at many industry events. I’ve seen him speak many times. A lot of our listeners are probably familiar with the Halbert Hargrove name. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about the firm?

[00:02:14] Cecilia Williams: Sure, and I have a lot to live up to. Halbert Hargrove was founded in 1933 in Long Beach. We became an RIA in 1989, we have been in the RIA space for over 30 years. Today, we have about $2.5 billion under management, about 44 employees. We really love working with individuals and families in times of transition. Whether that’s retirement, job changes, family changes, anything, I think our goal is making sure we’re providing value when clients need us the most. I think that lends well to our tagline which is “The fearless pursuit of well-lived todays and tomorrows.” Making sure our clients have good vibes today but we’re setting a plan for them. We’re setting their goals so that we can achieve their goals for tomorrow. Yes, you mentioned our offices. We’ve mostly grown organically in Long Beach but as our name has grown, we’ve had the opportunity to work with great people in other regions who have books of business and joined us. We’re looking forward to the future, transitioning to that next generation of salespeople who are learning the skills to acquire and retain business. We’re excited for the future.

[00:03:27] Matt Sonnen: What’s the tagline? That was great. “Fearless pursuit…” What was it again?

[00:03:31] Cecilia Williams: “The fearless pursuit of well-lived todays and tomorrows.”

[00:03:35] Matt Sonnen: I love it. That’s great. Diane, Parallel Advisors is another big name in the RIA space. I’m sure most of our listeners are familiar with it. Please give us some background on Parallel.

[00:03:48] Diane Gabianelli: Sure. Parallel was founded in 2006 by C.J. Rendic. He was looking for a way to change the wealth management paradigm. He wanted a firm that was independent in inclusivity and innovation would be at its core. Those are still some of our core values today. Shortly after he founded the firm, Jake Schutt joined him and together, they really launched Parallel. They really wanted to build something that was bigger and provided a platform for other advisors to serve their clients conflict-free. They made two really pivotal decisions early on. One is that they wanted Parallel to have a shared equity model. The other was that we would build an integrated and scalable technology platform. Right now, all of our advisors and several of our employees are actually shareholders in the company. This really provides for a culture of collaboration which we cornerstone at Parallel. We believe that more minds working together to solve problems is better than one mind working alone. Then the other fortunate thing that happened is that Jake actually had a technology background. He continues to be the architect of our open integrated, scalable technology system that’s really enabled us to be nimble and to give tools to both of our advisors and directly to our clients. We have $3.2 billion under management. As you mentioned, we’ve got headquarters in San Francisco with offices in Dayton, Denver, Honolulu, Oklahoma City. We have 61 employees, and 27 of whom are advisors. We give our advisors a lot of autonomy around the clients that they serve. Our clients range anywhere from up and coming tech entrepreneurs, to corporate execs, to business owners, and to those who are concerned about generational wealth transfer. The main thing that’s really common among all of our clients is this understanding and appreciation for financial planning. Planning is also a cornerstone of our firm and we believe that everything else follows from there. Growth has also been a big part of our story. My co-president Brian O’Keefe leads our organic growth initiatives and C.J. leads our recruiting and M&A efforts. We continue to think that growth gives us the ability to hire the best people, invest in technology, improve our service offerings for our clients, create an enduring firm, and really deliver value. We also don’t believe in inorganic growth for growth’s sake, culture and fit are our number one priority. We hire people who are aligned with our core values, which are independent, inclusive, innovative, intense, and inspiring. Those are our guideposts and sum up who we are as a firm.

[00:06:33] Matt Sonnen: You mentioned that everybody thinks “Well, we have to be growing because we have to impress the clients. We have to be growing because we have to impress the clients” and the clients don’t so much care about the growth. And sometimes they don’t want the growth of the RIA because they want “Hey, I want to be the only one you’re servicing.” The growth is so vital to recruiting and getting top talent and obviously being in San Francisco, you’ve got a lot of competition for talent. That growth is important for a number of reasons, but it’s definitely important. I know we’re going to talk about recruiting here in a few minutes, but it’s definitely important for attracting the right employees. That’s great. All of our listeners know that my absolute favorite part of the podcast is hearing everyone’s career path and the story of events that have led them to their current position. Diane, you’ve had an incredible career. You joined Parallel, about seven years ago, you had a fantastic resume when you arrived. Would you mind walking us through your journey?

[00:07:37] Diane Gabianelli: Sure. I think, Matt, what’s funny is I heard one of your other podcasts and you mentioned that no one grows up to be want to be the COO of an RIA, but I actually have a funny story for you. When I was in high school, my father who was a broker at Merrill Lynch at the time, he set me up on a rotational internship through Merrill one summer. Most of my time was spent on the first floor shadowing brokers and watching them work and interact with clients. However, I also spent time on the second floor with the operations, finance, and administrative teams. I remember at the end of the summer, my dad asked me if I wanted to be a broker. I told him that it was way more interesting to me to run the business and not be on the client side. Of course, here I am.

[00:08:18] Matt Sonnen: That’s awesome. I love it.

[00:08:20] Diane Gabianelli: Yes, it’s crazy. I did take a circuitous route to get here. In hindsight, I think that’s really served me well. After graduating college with a degree in economics, I headed to Wall Street and worked for several years in investment banking in New York, and Boston, and LA. I knew I wanted to round out my skillset, so I also decided to go to business school. It was there that I became really interested in the challenges of growing a business. I actually pivoted to sales and marketing at a fledgling natural foods manufacturer, and eventually really was drawn to running the business itself. I ended up running the operations of that business. I left that company when my second child came along, and I started my own management consulting business, so that I could continue to learn about growing businesses and broadening my skill set, but also have the flexibility that I needed and wanted at the time. I ended up working with a bunch of CEOs on a bunch of different projects, and learned, really, again, broadened that skill set, learned a lot of things about a lot of things, which was interesting. When I was ready to resume a full-time career, I knew that I wanted to get back into the financial services industry, that I had a broad skill set that would make me a versatile player, particularly for a small firm. Then I also had experience in helping businesses to grow. I was chairing a board at the time and was introduced to C.J. and Jake through a fellow board member. They really needed someone just to wear a lot of hats and to figure things out. I was looking to work with really smart people, really good people, and a collaborative culture. I wanted to be with an ambitious firm and also to be in a position to learn something new every day but perhaps most importantly, I wanted to work with a firm that was trying to make people’s lives easier. That’s why I’ve been with Parallel for seven years.

[00:10:09] Matt Sonnen: You mentioned a lot of things about a lot of things and then you say when you joined Parallel, “Hey, they just needed someone to wear a lot of hats.” We’ve talked about it on other episodes. That’s pretty much the job description of a COO, you need to have a hand in everything. That’s great. You have the perfect background. Cecilia, your career story is no less impressive but it’s interesting in its own right because Halbert Hargrove is the only employer that you’ve ever had, which is fascinating. You’ve had a lot of roles and responsibilities along the way, you’ve zigged and zagged your career. Also, I think, looking at LinkedIn I think you earned your MBA while working and I’ve always found that super-impressive when people can juggle those. Please tell us a little bit of where you are today within the organization and how you got there?

[00:11:01] Cecilia Williams: Listening to Diane, I definitely feel like I had a much straighter path with the industry. I started about 15 years ago, I was a senior in college, I actually was working downstairs on the lobby floor at a gift shop of our current building that we’re still in today. I worked there for about three years, it was just a really quiet place that let me study, I got to know a few people who came down to buy snacks and built rapport with them and suddenly, I’m a senior and I’m graduating and I’m handing my resume out to people. Suddenly, at 21, I’m interviewing for an operation specialist role and HH, and of course, I have no idea what that means, what an advisor is, what an RIA is – but started with the firm when we were about a little less than a billion in AUM. Definitely looks a lot different than it does today. To be honest, I think that it was just the timing of the hard work and our firm having such a strong culture just like Diane mentioned in her firm. They will sponsor anything that you want to go after as long as it pertains to your role in some way. So taking the series exam, taking my CFP and then absolutely my MBA, and that was fully paid for by our firm, which is I think, unheard of when all the classmates that I was going to USC with were just astounded when I told them that it was fully paid for by my company. But that’s essentially what we’re always looking to do and help encourage with all our associates. I took basically anything I could get my hands on and I applied that as well in the work that I did. I became our trading manager, I joined the investment committee. Obviously, no one loves the compliance work so that came to me pretty easily. They were like, “Cecilia, you do that if you want to.” I gained a lot of experience. I think it was in 2010 when we decided to formally shut down our broker-dealer to become completely fee only. That was a huge undertaking and something that I gained so much experience from. I also had a dual role at one point where I was on the client service side as a wealth advisor. All that to eventually get to the role I am today. Sheryl Sandberg has a great quote in Lean In where she says, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat — you just get on!” I think that’s definitely the perspective I’ve had through my career is that I took on any project that helps the firm grow and help make sure that we’re successful and I think that’s what gives me such a great perspective in the role I have today.

[00:13:39] Matt Sonnen: That’s an incredible story, right place at the right time, I love it. Diane, you talked about the culture of collaboration. As I mentioned at the top of the conversation, you’re juggling multiple offices, multiple states. I’m curious how the transition to working from home has been for you guys and what are the plans across all those different locations for heading back to the office?

[00:14:06] Diane Gabianelli: We’ve been really lucky because for one, we had a business continuity plan that we had tested annually so we already had resolved a lot of the possible pitfalls. The other big thing that we had to our advantage is that all of our systems are in a cloud, and so we consider ourselves pretty much a paperless office. Everyone really just had to grab their laptops and head home. We didn’t really miss a beat in that regard either, which was really fortunate in a testament to Jake and his technology vision. On top of that our Salesforce CRM, we use that to track all of our tasks, so the workflows are really apparent to managers and to our employees as to who’s doing what, and we can really measure our productivity through that test system. That’s been really helpful as well. Our biggest operational challenge actually was the physical mail: Who do we forward it to? Do we go back to the office periodically to check it? Do we teach our clients to send checks directly to the custodians? It was funny that the physical mail was the biggest hiccup for us, so we were really fortunate in that regard from an operational standpoint. In the meantime, we’ve been maintaining all of our meetings, we have an all-hands meeting every week, we have a management team meeting every week, our teams meet weekly, committees meet weekly. Fortunately, we had an annual retreat in February where we flew in everybody from all of our different offices and so it was really nice to have been connected at that point. Morale and communications and connections seem to be the focus right now for us. In terms of returning to work, safety, of course, like everybody, that’s our number one priority. We’re thinking about our employees and their friends and family and you questioning things like getting them on public transportation and how that will work. We did form a committee with managers and representatives from our satellite offices to put our heads together to figure out what’s the best way to approach this with the tracking regional and building specific guidelines in those different areas and we’ve gone ahead and secured cleaning, and sanitation supplies, and developed protocols around client meetings, and mask wearing, and congregating in group spaces and things like that. We’ve also contracted for additional cleaning services. This time, really, Hawaii is our only office that’s open and it’s certainly optional as to whether folks go in. Hawaii doesn’t actually have any cases. I believe that’s still true. There was a request from some of the Hawaii folks to get back to the office, but I think similar to your conversation with the Hamburger folks, we’re really not putting a timeline on it at all. I think in some ways we might help people to have some guideposts but for us, we just feel like it’s almost our new normal at least for now. We’ve definitely had a lot of conversation about space and when we do go back and should we go back and all of that. We did have a work-from-home program that we just rolled out in January, so I think we’ll likely go back to some kind of hybrid approach. Collaboration really is the cornerstone of our firm and so this idea that getting people together and exchanging knowledge and experiences really makes for a better experience from a professional development standpoint—efficiency, productivity, client experience, all of those things. It’s really hard for us when we think about, would we ever be in our virtual office, it’s hard to think about losing that thing that we think makes us pretty unique. That’s where we stand right now.

[00:17:56] Matt Sonnen: I think that’s exactly right. It’s a little bit of a wait and see. You try to plan but things are changing constantly so just being flexible, I think is the best strategy. Cecilia, we talked about you have eight offices, five states. How have you guys adjusted to this and has this experience really changed your attitude towards traditional office space?

[00:18:27] Cecilia Williams: Very similar, I think to Parallel. We were paperless already, we had a BCP plan, we use Hamburger, so I think they put us in good shape where we had everything ready to go. I think we transitioned pretty well. I did think one big takeaway that we learned is having such a large home office in in Long Beach and the headquarters here, we definitely learned a little bit more on empathy and how our other offices operate. There are smaller offices, they don’t get to interact with everyone as frequently just because they are one to two person or three-person office, so we got to live what they were essentially experiencing every day almost before quarantine. Helping us adjust on the management side this is what they’re experiencing, they were already experiencing all the virtual meetings and interactions so it definitely helped us realize what we can do better. We had our first big regional meeting where normally everyone is all-hands on deck, fly into Long Beach, and we had that virtually in May. I thought it worked great, we did breakout groups, we had sessions where smaller groups get together and brainstorm and still have that camaraderie, have happy hour still. There’s a lot of ways that we’re still engaging but I think a lot of work that we can continue to do, as you mentioned too, if this is our normal then we want to make sure that we still keep everyone engaged. On the technology front, I think that’s helped us tremendously too, technology initiatives that I think were already underway but they were just expedited because of quarantine. We were transitioning from Skype to Microsoft Teams, we were transitioning from GoToMeeting to Zoom, things like that just happen much more quickly, which is exciting because we are able to really test our infrastructure and see what we can do. Within a month changing that much technology I feel like was unheard of in the past. The entire firm adopted to it so quickly and so seamlessly, it was really impressive and exciting to see the team adopt that. As far as coming back to work, we do have a date in mid-September that we’re aiming for just from the management perspective. Obviously we’re based in LA county and we know the numbers going on so we could definitely fly by that day with no action being taken. We wanted to just set a date internally so that we had all the protocols in place before that date and then if anyone wanted to come into the office on a voluntary basis, we just know that everyone’s process or their way of efficiency is different and we wanted to just make sure that it was a safe place for them if they wanted to come in but as a firm, overall, we had no date set for when it would be mandatory again. The only thing is we did have our first intern hire in quarantine, that was a very, very different experience and finding ways to engage them and introduce them to the firm since they’re not in person but I think we’re definitely dealing with that well and looking at creative ways to introduce people to the firm and make sure our culture stays strong like Diane mentioned. In the future, I don’t think we’ll probably adjust much of our physical space because of that, because of our camaraderie and everything we need to keep in place but it’s definitely something we’re going to keep an eye on.

[00:21:42] Matt Sonnen: If the news isn’t discussing new Coronavirus cases or the reopening and reclosing of certain states or certain cities, the other big headline right now has been just all the civil unrest and our country’s need for greater diversity and inclusion. Major League Baseball started this weekend with several players taking a knee during the national anthem and that continued a lot of debate across the country. I know both of your firms have taken steps to address diversity and inclusion. Cecilia, why don’t you tell us some of the things Halbert Hargrove has done in this area?

[00:22:20] Cecilia Williams: I was very, very proud of Russ obviously coming up with our initiative. He gave every associate one day of paid time off a week for the rest of the year so they can dedicate to various diversity and inclusion issues that are impacting our team and our community. He really gave no guardrails there, the topics can vary from voter awareness, registration, education issues, anything that they feel can help improve the firm, our diversity and our inclusion. I think it’s a great way that we’re using to invoke change from within, empowering our associates. It’s been exciting to see how some of them are choosing to tackle this issue in their own way, in their own forum and finding their voice. From a management perspective, we, of course, admit that we don’t have all the answers to this but we’re continuing to listen, make sure that we have high hopes and we’re working towards making a better place for everyone.

[00:23:22] Matt Sonnen: I think that’s fantastic. Diane, I know Parallel Advisors, you guys recognize Juneteenth this year. What else has the firm done with regard to diversity?

[00:23:34] Diane Gabianelli: As I mentioned earlier, inclusion is one of our core values at Parallel and so this recent social unrest has really prompted us to take a look at that value to see to what extent it’s really actively embedded in our culture, our communications, hiring, and even in our broader community. We’re really interested in figuring out to what degree are we acting with intentionality around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Some first steps we took is we did put out a statement commemorating June 19th or Juneteenth and honoring any of our employees who have experienced any form of bias during the course of their lives. We did give our employees a paid half-day off on Juneteenth and encouraged them to spend some time in reflection, listening, and learning. I’m really proud of the fact that we have established a diversity equity and inclusion council and we really are just getting started. There’s a lot to learn and a lot of education ahead of us, we need to determine what the goals are, how are we going to get there, what metrics are we going to use to measure success. We are right now in the process of researching how other effective E&I councils work and what work that they do. One of the big pushes is trying to figure out, do we have the support system and the structure in our firm that really supports and enables everybody to succeed in the firm? Lots more to come about this, we’re really excited. Matt Clements in our firm is leading this initiative and he’s really passionate about it. We’re excited to see where it goes in the future

[00:25:19] Matt Sonnen: On that topic of inclusion and ensuring that employee’s voices are heard, et cetera, I’m a broken record on this podcast, I try to mention it on every episode but I believe 75% of the COO’s job is tied up in HR-related initiatives. Whether that’s hiring, recruiting, training, career development, et cetera. Diane, I know Parallel Advisors has recently had a shift in your recruitment efforts. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

[00:25:50] Diane Gabianelli: Sure. We believe, just as you do, that firms are ultimately really all about the people and that definitely does take up a lot of our time to make sure that we’ve got good people at our firms. When we’re recruiting advisors, our first priority is always to look for great people who have really well-aligned philosophy, not only with how we do business but also with the values of the firm. We’re really excited because recently we joined forces with Emigrant Partners, which is a subsidiary of New York Private Bank and Trust, which is the largest privately-owned family run bank in the country. What’s great about this partnership is that Emigrant is in a position to help us with both our organic and our inorganic growth. On the organic side, we now have access to some great thought leadership and resources but on the inorganic side, this relationship also gives us access to capital. For the first time we’re offering upfront transition capital in conjunction with awarding equity to new advisors coming on to Parallel. Our firm’s growing at about 32% a year, we believe that the equity award is meaningful. We feel like now we’re in a much better position to offer true partnership opportunity with these economic incentives and really retain and attract the highest caliber advisors and really just great people to Parallel.

[00:27:16] Matt Sonnen: That’s great. Cecilia, can you tell us a little bit of the career development initiatives you’ve implemented at Halbert Hargrove?

[00:27:24] Cecilia Williams: Yes, of course. I think what Diane said about people first, I’m really proud of our internship program and that’s probably it’s doing so well because we handed it off to someone else who has been amazing at it. We had a number of our associates do it who started as interns and now have been here five, six, seven years. That’s been great to see. We have an intern manager who’s responsible for coaching and guiding college students. Not only are they doing work that really helps the firm but they’re also getting access to one-on-one meetings. They have quarterly reviews, our internal meetings and so hopefully they can really understand what we do, how different roles function with the firm and help them make a better decision on if this is something for them. This isn’t something that we had when I started, I was trusting blindly and jumping into a new job. Hopefully, we’re making the firm better so that we’re taking a little bit of the risk away from them and giving an opportunity for them to learn different things before they jump into a new career. That’s something that I think has been great. Another aspect is our mentorship programs, not just interns but new and existing associates are paired with someone for at least two years that can give them guidance, people that have been through it and can really be a champion for them to help them succeed. Definitely takes a village, we’re grooming our next generation and we think it takes a lot of hands so the fact that we have this program that builds that a little bit more formally, I think, has been really great.

[00:29:00] Matt Sonnen: Fantastic. I love it. We’ve already discussed a lot of the projects that you’re both spearheading within your organizations. On top of your operation hats, you both have dual roles. Cecilia, you had mentioned that you’re not only the Director of Investment Operations but you’re holding the role of Chief Compliance Officer as well. My question for you is just how do you get it all done every day? Do you have any time management tips you can share with our listeners?

[00:29:30] Cecilia Williams: I think I’d be lying if I said I did get everything done every single day, there are definitely days that I do not, but I do have tips. I try to make sure that there’s dedicated time to focusing on true initiatives, whether it’s compliance issues that I obviously can never drop but there’s also the people issues and everything else that comes along with it that require a lot of focus. Shutting down email — as hard as that can be — or blocking off time on a calendar I think has been really helpful. One thing that we tried to initiate, that I failed at, was implementing two days a week where we have absolutely no internal meetings. I was already bad at it, but I think during quarantine, it just became harder because we were meeting with people more frequently. My new goal is to try and get to one day where we don’t have meetings and allow that time for really valuable focused work. I think that is just immeasurable in how much you could get done there. Then another thing is just making sure that you build in flexibility for yourself whether— for me, it works really well that I start earlier when, again, it’s quiet, I can get things done, no one’s in the office yet and then I take off a little bit in the morning when I get my son up for school and get him around. That’s been helpful but it’s definitely hard. I think it looks differently for each person but just finding and trial and error to make sure you find something that works for you. I think I read a study recently that through quarantine, employees are working 10% to 20% longer days, but if they meet more regularly with their manager, that lessens because managers can keep them focused, keep them prioritized, and they really start focusing on the right things. That’s definitely something that I’ve been trying to make sure I implement with associates. Then meeting more frequently allows me to delegate more. We’re meeting more often, we can work on projects together, troubleshoot things, and it definitely overall helps with my overall workload, so that’s been working well so far.

[00:31:34] Matt Sonnen: That’s great. Working from home, when it first started, everyone thought, “Oh, what are we going to do with all this extra time? There’s no commute to work.” It definitely has felt like more work than that. Then, Diane, we mentioned co-president role, Chief Financial Officer, and your website also mentions you’re involved in marketing. How are you dividing your day and prioritizing everything on your to-do list?

[00:32:04] Diane Gabianelli: For me, I think what Cecilia said, and what you just mentioned around prioritization is really key. What we do every year at a 3,000-foot level is our management team gets together and we have this annual practice of determining our strategic initiatives for the next three or five years. We bring those priorities to our shareholders for their input and then we announce them firm-wide every year. That’s really been a critical practice for us, so that helps me figure out how to prioritize all of the things that come across to my desk, my working toward those bigger goals. It also provides transparency so that everyone in the firm knows what the management team is working on. It also helps that if someone says, “Hey, I’ve got a great idea, let’s do this,” then I can come back and say, “Okay, well, here are the priorities. Tell me where that fits in. Does it fit in this year or does it fit in three years from now? Do we want to replace a current priority with this new priority?” It really creates this level of clarity and communication throughout the firm. Then at 10,000 feet, the management team also meets and gets together and really discusses what are the initiatives or projects that we can do to ensure that all these strategic initiatives take place and we’re successful at them. We collaborate on that. Then we even hold each other accountable, making sure that we get those projects done. There’s a lot of communication and collaboration there as well. Then from there, I try to figure out who I can delegate some of this work to. I meet with my team members individually at least two times a month. When we were back in the office, we had actually an open-floor plan, so it was pretty easy to just call across the cubicle and say, “Let’s work on this.” Now, we’re being much more formal about or regular at least with our meetings. Then I also looked outside resources and consultants to help to the extent that I can. We talked about independence as one of our core values, and we think, ”Let’s get the best thinking. I don’t know everything about everything, so let’s get the best thinking out there to help us.” We have, for instance, a marketing consultant that we use, we have a compensation consultant that we use, and some other folks, so I think outsourcing is another option. Then finally, I get to my own granular to-do list which I rely on very heavily. Not many things come off it, there are only things that’ll be added to it. I do some things like Cecilia has mentioned. I heard a podcast one day about not answering your emails until noon each day. Otherwise, you’re just doing other people’s work, which I think is interesting. It’s pretty hard to put that into practice I’m finding, but I like that as a goal for me. Also, this idea of booking blocks of time on my calendar to getting bigger projects done is definitely another strategy. Prioritization, I think is what I would say is the key to trying to get big projects and move the needle for the firm.

[00:35:13] Matt Sonnen: I said earlier, and we’ve talked about on a lot of podcasts, the goal for every RIA is to try to continue to provide a high-touch service to a larger and larger client base, but make every client feel like they’re the only client you’re working with. You don’t want any service issues to slip through the cracks, but at the same time, we’re all trying to grow our businesses. Cecilia, how do you tackle the issue of scalability?

[00:35:45] Cecilia Williams: Sure. I think the one word is probably technology, making sure we have the right technology in place to continue to service our clients, whether that’s our CRM system that has enormous amount of workflows enabled that can disperse tasks to whether it’s the service team, administrative team, ops team, to make sure there are reminders, nothing gets missed. It’s definitely something that we’ve spent a lot of time on “What does the perfect client experience look like?” And once we establish that, how do we have the task in place to make sure we don’t miss any of that? For existing clients, it’s things like tracking their age, so then we know that deadlines are coming up for Medicare and social security. Those are things that obviously will never come away from the advisors in having that hands-on experience with a client, but we can make their lives a little easier and making sure we remind them or we have the technology behind the scenes running the numbers. Obviously, they’re making the decision and having those hard conversations with our clients, so that’s been really great. I think aggregation will be a big part of the future here as well as that continues to improve because the less time advisors can spend on inputting actual data in the financial plan and really just focus on the actual plan and the decisions that have to be made, the more interaction and the more they can spend with their clients making those tough decisions. The more technology is there that helps us support them, I think the better.

[00:37:12] Matt Sonnen: That’s great. Diane, what initiatives or projects are you focused on to allow the firm to grow, but at the same time, maintain that high level of service for all clients?

[00:37:21] Diane Gabianelli: Like I think with all firms, it’s really important for our firm to not take our eye off the ball from a client-service perspective, particularly as we grow in the number of clients that we serve and as our clients’ needs seem to become more complex. Productivity, efficiency, accuracy, and communication are some of the priorities for the firm right now from an operational perspective. Three things that we’ve done recently in an effort to improve communication throughout the firm, we’ve created some portals within Salesforce for each department or committee to simply house all the important policies, procedures, resources, et cetera, so that information is really readily available for everyone. The other thing that we just are wrapping up now is the segmentation project. What we did with that is we clearly defined and standardized our service offering for all our clients. We performed activity-based costing to our client-service task to determine where we’re spending time and to measure productivity. We identified ways to optimize our service delivery vis-à-vis these costs, and we’re reallocating resources in order to provide appropriate advisor and client support where needed. We’re really happy with that project, and that’s just rolling out right now. Then the third thing that we’re just about to launch is a workflow process audit. We want to map out various processes throughout the firm and across departments to better learn where the gaps are and where the opportunities are for improvement and efficiencies and productivity and accuracy. It’s easy to take a band-aid approach to solving for gaps rather than looking for a holistic process and identifying where we can get the most lift from investments in technology or people. We think that this will help us scale more thoughtfully and provide even better service to our clients.

[00:39:10] Matt Sonnen: I’m such a nerd with all that. All that excites me. I think that’s great, the workflows and everything.

[00:39:15] Diane Gabianelli: Me too. I’m excited for it.

[00:39:19] Matt Sonnen: Yes. Well, this has been a great conversation. Thank you both for keeping a very positive vibe throughout our discussion today and for showing everyone that firms are definitely continuing to thrive in this environment. I think our listeners have learned a ton from both of you today. Cecilia and Diane, thank you so much for being here.

[00:39:39] Cecilia Williams: Thanks for having us.

[00:39:40] Diane Gabianelli: Thanks for having us.

[00:39:42] Matt Sonnen: Awesome. Well, thank you, everyone, for listening and we will talk to you soon.

[00:39:47] [END OF AUDIO]