Edward D. Jones & Co. is expanding its presence in the Spokane market as part of a five-year national push to open more offices.
Pete Blackwell, a certified financial planner who operates an Edward Jones office at 6319 N. Maple, on Spokane’s North Side, says the Des Peres, Mo.-based financial services company has a stated goal to grow to 20,000 branches by 2020, from 14,000 branches today.
The company, he says, has 57 branches in the Inland Northwest region, which spans from the U.S.-Canada border to Lewiston, Idaho, and from the Montana-Idaho border to Moses Lake, Wash., Blackwell says he doesn’t know how many of the new offices will open in the Inland Northwest, but a region such as this typically can sustain up to 65 branches.
“We’re going to continue to grow in Spokane,” he says. “We’re going to continue to garner additional market share. That’s our intention.”
Blackwell, who has worked as a financial adviser for 15 years, 10 of which have been with Edward Jones, says he currently is coaching seven newer financial advisers and has converted his conference room into an office where one young adviser can work until building a book of business.
Typically, advisers who are new to the company have worked from home until established well enough to secure their own commercial space. Recently, established advisers have been providing some space to new advisers to give them a more professional place to work.
“What we’re seeing is, they do better,” he says. “They get their feet on the ground a little bit faster, and our attrition rate is a little bit lower.”
Blackwell describes the Edward Jones business model as a hybrid between an independent adviser and a large brokerage office. He says Edward Jones advisers typically work independently in small offices with a few employees—he has one full-time employee and a part-time worker in addition to himself—and those offices frequently are in a suburban retail setting.
In that model, Blackwell is an employee of Edward Jones, but since he has established what he refers to as a “legal, ethical, profitable” business, he also has earned an ownership interest in the company, which operates as a privately held partnership.
He says the business model relies on leasing more retail locations than would be necessary under one of the more traditional models, but he asserts the model is effective.
“I can tell you, when I was working in the tallest building in Spokane, the number of times a gentleman … woke up and said, ‘Gee, Martha, let’s drive downtown, fight the traffic, pay to park, go up 17 flights, and find a new financial adviser,’” he says. “It’s just not going to happen.”
He adds, “But when you’re in the neighborhood and you have a deli on one side and a dry cleaner on the other, people are going to walk by and see you.”
Blackwell describes himself as a “general practitioner” in the financial services field, working with clients on retirement planning, saving for children’s education, and managing some 401(k)s. He declines to disclose annual revenue figures for his branch or the volume of assets managed, but he says Edward Jones has a total of $780 billion in assets under management. As part of its five-year growth plan, it hopes to reach $1 trillion in assets managed by 2020.
He says he has about 270 clients in 17 states, which is down from nearly 400 in 23 states. He pared back through attrition and by transferring willing customers in other states to Edward Jones advisers who were closer to them. He says he consciously decided to reduce the number of clients he served so that he could focus on providing better customer service to those who remained.
Of his 270 current clients, Blackwell says roughly 85 percent live in the Inland Northwest. The average client either is within five years of retiring or has retired within the past five years.
Regardless of demographic, Blackwell says, one trend in the industry is that more people are opting for managed portfolios. In such portfolios, day-to-day decisions in terms of what to buy and sell are made on an investor’s behalf by a chartered financial analyst.
The decisions are guided, Blackwell says, by an investment policy statement, which is a set of rules and guidelines based on a client’s answers to an extensive questionnaire—about twice the size of a standard risk tolerance assessment.
The investment policy statement can include any number of conditions. For example, one investor might choose not to own any investments in alcohol or tobacco companies. Another might opt to sell everything if the value of investments drops by 3 percent.
“That’s becoming more and more popular because people are like, ‘I’m at a soccer game. I can’t make that decision right now,’” Blackwell says.
Blackwell entered the financial services industry after retiring from a 12-year career as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps. He had grown up in the Carolinas, but after he left the military, he told his wife, a Bozeman, Mont., native, that she should pick their next move.
“We moved nine times in the first 12 years we were married,” he says. “I told her, ‘I have been dragging you around the U.S. Why don’t you choose where you want to live.’”
She chose Boise, but after he took a job with Paine Webber, his manager encouraged him to come to Spokane for the first couple of years, saying he could transfer to Boise later. Blackwell says his family liked Spokane and decided to stay.
He joined Edward Jones after about five years at Paine Webber and started his North Side practice.
“We’re out doing our own thing,” he says. “We have supervision … but we don’t have a branch manager knocking on our door. If we run a legal, ethical, and profitable business, nobody from the home offices is going to come in and say, ‘Why don’t you do more of this or less of this?’”
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