Edward D. Jones & Co. LP plans to hire 250 advisers and 250 branch office administrators in both Toronto and Phoenix in the next five years as part of a plan to enter more urban areas.

The St. Louis firm announced its plans to hire in Phoenix and Toronto in Tuesday. Price Woodward, a principal in charge of financial adviser recruiting and hiring, said that if the new advisers in those two cities can gather customers over the next six months, the company will look to use the same strategy to enter the Northeast and Florida. "There is just an enormous population on the East Coast," he said in an interview Tuesday. "We are looking for ways to grow rapidly in those markets."

Edward Jones is interested in entering markets "where we have opportunities to open a lot of new branch locations," Woodward said.

The company hopes the strategy will enable it to generate 9% net growth in revenue this year and 10% in 2010, 2011 and 2012, he said.

Edward Jones introduced a five-year plan in 2007 to build offices in areas where it has customers but no offices, Woodward said. By 2012 the firm wants to have 17,500 advisers; it currently has 12,387 in 11,068 branches in North America.

When Edward Jones hires advisers, they work from their homes for seven months to a year until they have established a strong book of business, he said; at that point the firm opens a branch for them.

Analysts said most brokerage companies are not hiring aggressively, because economic conditions have made it more difficult for advisers to gather assets. Edward Jones' U.S. assets under management have declined 0.2% since the end of last year, to $410 billion as of April 30, but have fallen 21.9% since the end of 2007.

Nevertheless, Woodward said the firm has done better than other wealth managers in retaining assets because of a conservative investment strategy and by adding advisers. "New advisers are developing new clients, and that has allowed us to keep assets at a reasonable level despite the markets."

Since the end of 2007, Edward Jones has increased the number of households using its advisers 2.4% to 4.285 million. "We have been able to add customers because we remain committed to adding advisers," Woodward said. "We are going to be able to spring back quickly when this downturn ends, because we have continued to build our base of advisers when the markets are down."

Now is the best time to hire advisers, he said, since so many have lost their jobs over the past six months. "Sometimes it is more challenging to add assets and advisers when we are in a bull market. Now is a good time for new advisers to be prospecting for new clients, because many investors are interested in changing advisers or perhaps a second opinion. People need a doctor when they are sick, and they need guidance in the financial markets right now."

Edward Jones opened its first offices in St. Louis the late 1950s and opened more offices in the Midwest in the 1960s and 1970s. In the early 1990s it started to open offices in metropolitan areas across the country. Woodward said 85% of offices that have been opened in the past 25 years have been in urban areas. "The last bastions for us of uncharted waters is the Northeast and Florida," he said.

Edward Jones has had advisers in Canada for 15 years. At yearend it had 660 advisers in Canada, including 130 in Toronto. Gary Reamey, a principal at Edward Jones Canada, said in an interview Wednesday that it decided in November to add more in the Toronto area.

Within five years, Edward Jones wants to have 380 advisers in the Toronto area and 1,100 across Canada, he said. It is interested in entering the rest of Canada's major metropolitan markets, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg and Regina.

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