In an industry that increasingly values personal relationships, a growing breed of bank advisers are partnering with spouses.
These husband-and-wife adviser teams enjoy distinct advantages and face singular challenges.
Howard Diamond, who runs a recruitment firm for financial advisers in Chester, N.J., and who is married to his business partner, Mindy Diamond, calls it a growing trend with a host of variations.
Sometimes the two advisers are absolute equals in the office; sometimes one spouse works as the adviser's sales assistant. Sometimes the two migrated together from another field — accounting or law, for example — and sometimes they met in the office. David Whitney had a thriving career in software technology but wanted something "more personal." His wife, Lori, was working as an adviser at Citigroup Inc. in San Mateo, Calif.
The two knew they worked well together, from raising their sons to organizing the local Little League.
In January 2003, he went through Citi's training program. Now, she said, they work together on large accounts.
Still, husband-and-wife advisers say the adjustment is not easy and the risks can be large. "We didn't want to wreck our marriage over our careers," said Tommy Williams, who works with his wife, Marsha, at Raymond James's Wood Forest Financial Services in The Woodlands, Tex.
The adjustment seems especially tough for the partner who must make room for a spouse in what had once been a solo business.
Christine Heim, an adviser at Wachovia Corp. in Milburn, N.J., clashed with her husband, Randy Dominguez, on producing a capabilities brochure. Used to being a lone wolf, Ms. Heim thought they should write it themselves, but her husband favored hiring an outside professional. "It was a control thing on my part," she said. "I had to relinquish."
So, too, with Lori Whitney and her husband who, initially, "would disagree so vehemently, it was exhausting," she said. They brought in a performance coach to sort out their differences.
The fact is, in an increasingly relationship-driven business, a husband-and-wife team can produce substantial benefits for both themselves and their clients. Married advisers find it easier to develop new clients and to deepen personal ties with existing ones when they can socialize together as one couple having dinner with another. Simply by being married, they implicitly make family wealth strategy their brand.
"When a husband and wife come in and see a husband and wife, we can all relate absolutely," said Jessica Marshall, a financial adviser with her husband, Jerry Tepper, at Citigroup in New York. "There's an instant comfort level."
For both adviser and client, there are economies of scale: Husband-wife teams can share research and do joint marketing.
Mr. Tepper said the clients feel "they're getting two for the price of one." They know that, if one adviser is busy, the other can cover and that the two will be on the same page. "Clients have the expertise of both of us and see us collaborating on their behalf," he said. Long-married advisers embody stability, continuity, and consistency.
Such partnerships work best when the team's skills are complementary and their roles well defined. "Tommy is a big-picture person, while I am more detail-oriented," said Marsha Williams..
Among the areas that Ms. Whitney handles are relationship and performance management, insurance, and annuities; her husband, David, is more involved in overall portfolio design, exchange-traded funds, and fixed-income investments. With his background in technology, he is able to transform her verbal presentations into visual ones. As he puts it, "we've increased our bandwidth."
Even when a spouse serves as an assistant, he or she can bring synergy to the business. Becky Randall left a career as a hospital X-ray technician to assist her husband, Dana, a Raymond James adviser at CorTrust Bank in Aberdeen, S.D. Officially, she's there to "dot the I's and cross the T's," she said. But as the chattier half of the duo, her greater contribution is tending to the personal side of things.
The bank made Ms. Randall director of its CorClub, which offers trips and events to its bigger depositors. She cultivates prospects from those who attend.
By now, clients come in not to talk to Mr. Randall but to share a cup of coffee with her. She even spent all day in the emergency room recently with a client who had low blood sugar. "No one's going to go above and beyond like that just to collect a paycheck," she laughs. "We are full-service!"
The advisers' families and communities can also benefit from such teamwork. In a business that demands long hours — from meeting a client at home in the evening to refining a financial plan on the weekend — husband-and-wife advisers enjoy a flexibility rare among two-career couples.
Last fall, Mr. Whitney was able to take their son to visit colleges while his wife tended to the business. And Tommy Williams is able to be a Texas state senator, and attending legislative sessions from November to May every other year, while his wife takes charge at the office.
Melding professional and personal lives can be difficult.
"You do take it home with you," said Mr. Diamond, the New Jersey recruiter. "We try our best to leave work at the door, but it does bleed over."
Perhaps surprisingly, however, many couples say that their professional teamwork has strengthened and deepened their marriages. Becky Randall said she used to get angry seeing her husband take off for a weekend hunting trip. Now, however, she knows the stresses firsthand and understands.