Ms. Beaman is the chief executive officer of Brinker Capital, Inc. Ms. Beaman is responsible for developing and executing the firm’s detailed operating plan and for the oversight of the company’s short and long term strategies. Previously, Ms. Beaman served as the firm’s chief operating officer responsible for policy and oversight of operations, administration, performance, reconciliation, technology and human resources. Noreen has more than 20 years of investment experience working with financial advisors and institutional and high net worth investors in strategic planning and investment management. Additionally, she is a member of the firm’s investment management and finance committees. As one of Brinker Capital’s original partners, Noreen previously held a variety of regional and national sales positions at the firm, including new business development and client service in New York and New Jersey; and was also the firm’s chief financial officer.
Noreen is a frequent speaker at industry conferences and has been quoted extensively in top financial and advisor media. Prior to joining Brinker Capital, Noreen was treasurer at Mutual Benefit Capital Companies, a subsidiary of Mutual Benefit Life Insurance Company. She also worked at Ernst and Young. Ms. Beaman is a graduate of Saint Peter’s College and is a member of their Board of Regents.
Q. We actually did a Power Player interview with your founder and chairman Chuck Widger seven and a half years ago, in March 2007. At that time you were at $8 billion in assets with 120 employees. What is the current snapshot?
A. It is $17.5 billion dollars and 145 employees (as of September 30, 2014).
Yes, and a nice solid march forward.
Q. Since Chuck founded the company there have been many independent TAMPS and dozens of broker-dealer owned advisory platforms that have been set up and are in existence now. How do you distinguish Brinker Capital in terms of competitive advantage and overall value proposition?
A. Since I started with the firm in 1991, I have had the benefit of working with Chuck and working toward his vision. When we started out, we were very much a TAMP, but our value proposition has changed over the years so that now not only do we provide a full-service offering and a turn-key environment, but we also really focus more on expressing an investment point of view and creating products and solutions that we are fully delivering to the marketplace. This is not only through our full-service platform but through other platforms such as Envestnet, Schwab Marketplace, Fidelity Separate Account Network, LPL, and FolioDynamix. We are now available on most custodial platforms, including Fidelity IWS/MAS, Pershing, Schwab OneSource, TD Ameritrade, LPL and RBC, where we deliver our products primarily through the investment chassis. Brinker Capital is not just delivering back-office processing and investment access, but we actually are building portfolios and customizing solutions for financial advisors to bring to their clients.
Q. On a personal basis, you were Brinker Capital’s CFO before getting tapped for the CEO role. What surprised you, what challenged you and what was easier than you thought it would be when you ascended to the top of the house?
A.When I first started with Brinker Capital I was a CFO. There were eight of us and we all had big titles, but through the years I was really one of Chuck’s mentees. I then moved out in the field as a sales person. After sales, I spent two years as a Chief Operating Officer. I have pretty much worked in every function in the company, except the actual investment part. So I had a great overview of the company when I became CEO. The most interesting thing is how you have a completely different point of view when you are sitting at the table bringing all the different constituencies together versus championing your own idea. It is about having the ability to take time to make sure everyone feels listened to and that their ideas are important. You have to be collaborative and make sure that you do not alienate a certain group versus another. It is much more difficult than I had expected. I’ve told Chuck that he must have had a real treat with me being on the other side of that table when I was championing my ideas. It really does give you a different sense. You are orchestrating and as much as you want to do things all your way, you have to let the staff handle things themselves as well so they can grow in their roles. It has been an interesting challenge. There is a part of your calendar you do not control. There are issues that come up, and generally the decisions that make it to your office are the ones that no one really wants to tackle. I would say it is a much different job from that perspective. It is one I really love. Every day is a different day and a new challenge. I have been in the job now for more than two years, and I finally feel like I have my feet under me, but every day I just have to be prepared for a new idea coming in or a challenge.
Q. Tell us about Brinker Capital’s approach to product development in terms of new offerings. The genesis of Crystal Strategy might be instructive but how do new ideas get shaped and actually become products at Brinker Capital? Is it a formal committee, hallway conversations that lead to more substantive formal conversations, someone rushing in and saying we ought to do this? How do you build offerings at Brinker Capital?
A. We very much focus on ideas. We get our ideas from the marketplace. We are tightly connected to the financial advisors who we serve and even those who we don’t actually work with. We try to be out in the market listening to the advisors as they serve their clients and anticipate what would be a more appropriate offering to that investor. We’ve had a product committee here at Brinker Capital for more than ten years. The product portfolio is directed by Avery Cook, who works with me. It’s really a seven-step process where we are out there vetting the ideas, creating a straw man, making sure it fits the marketplace and conducting focus groups. Things don’t just “come out”. There is strong discipline in what we do. We also know with technology how long it takes us to build those things. We’re constantly evolving. It was easy in the earlier days when you could try things out and see how they go. Now, we are a little more committed. If we can’t be really good at it and it doesn’t help investors achieve better outcomes, we will pass and have someone else do that. I think that is a function of where we are in our market cycle in terms of understanding our strengths and weaknesses and really only getting behind ideas that we can deliver at the highest level. At Brinker Capital, we believe great ideas plus strong discipline leads to better outcomes.
Q. Tell us about your current distribution model. In terms of distribution, and influencing and educating advisors, what have been the constants and what have been the changes over the years in your approach to distribution?
A. We had started out serving the insurance-based broker-dealer community. At the time when we started the firm, we were one of a few firms dedicated to that channel. We created a strong reputation there and continue so to this day. But it is much more competitive now. Over the years, the financial advisors we served have broken away to the independent broker-dealer channel or evolved into the independent RIA channel. We are working hard to expand our distribution capabilities and serving advisors, whether it is through an insurance broker-dealer, an independent broker-dealer or an RIA. What we know is that we are a solution for those financial advisors who want to outsource the investment packaging and delivery for their clients so they can better focus on the relationship side. Our focus has always been on the financial advisor, regardless of what channel they come from. As for the senior professionals at Brinker Capital, many of us have been in the field. We always say we love the financial advisor; we respect the work they do and how important it is, and without them, we would not have an opportunity to serve the end investor clients. What has changed is that over time, technology has provided a broader reach so that not only are we able to deliver our products when you come to Brinker Capital as a traditional TAMP, but more importantly, we can now be seen as a product provider and a thought leader. Firms may use us as a complementary strategy with our Crystal Strategy absolute return program. An example of this is in the RIA or independent broker-dealer community, where the portfolio manager may look to Brinker Capital for a portion of its asset allocation. We believe advice is more important now than ever. We are working hard in order to increase our brand awareness and our reach in both the independent broker-dealer channel and the RIA channel while still continuing to serve the insurance-based broker-dealers.
Q. Tell us about the tenets of your personal management philosophy. Everyone has got an approach and a philosophy to get the most out of your people. What is yours?
A. We talk a lot about accountability here at Brinker Capital. One of the things we talk about in accountability is we say it is not about consequences. It is about ownership. I have personally enjoyed working as a professional here because I knew what the vision was and I was able to deliver on my tasks in the way that I thought would create the best outcomes without much micromanagement. I was accountable to the deadline. I was accountable to delivering. One of the things we have been doing here at Brinker Capital is empowering our professionals to own it. If they need more training then we will give them what they need to be successful. In creating accountability, they have the ownership to do that and actually feel empowered. Every day you try to do a better job of your interactions with people. If people feel you have listened to them and they have the tools to be successful, everyone prospers. However, it doesn’t always work. There are times you have to stand up and have hard conversations. There are times when we failed in providing training and the right environment. We have to take a hard look at our process and ourselves. Let’s not put our teammates and employees in a position not to be successful. I would say that is a big part of it. I grew up at Brinker Capital essentially. I’m big on connecting and I enjoy the people we work with here. I sometimes like to go a little faster than the rest of the world. As I work on my own personal tempo, or patience, it is just allowing for an environment that people feel good and feel like they can make a difference.
Let’s get back to the advisor for a minute. Brinker Capital was built to provide institutional quality investment processes in a packaged fashion for advisors of all stripes. Is that fair to say?
Q. You and your colleagues, as you mentioned, you’ve been working with, talking to, influencing, educating and selling to advisors for virtually your entire professional life. You’ve seen a lot of them. What are the common traits and behavioral characteristics that you have observed in the best advisors that you have come across? What do they all seem to have in common?
A. They put their clients first. It is funny: I had a call yesterday from a financial advisor. He is 81 and he is still working. He says his clients don’t fire him — they die, which is unfortunate! What is interesting is that when I was a very inexperienced salesperson, he was one of the advisors who kind of took me under his wing and showed me the ropes of working with clients. I think these are common characteristics of the best advisors. They care most about their clients, put them first and they take time to listen and understand what their clients’ needs are. They also go and try to find the best solution to deliver on. I think they are smart and generally nice people. You find that advisors tend to work with clients like themselves. In seeing so many different types of advisors and so many different types of businesses, I think at the core is their commitment to service and their clients. I think that is what sets apart the best advisors. The money comes, as we know. If you keep working at it, delivering and being true to that, then your referrals happen. It is a tough business. It was hard 25 years ago. But I think it is harder today to start as a new financial advisor. The best financial advisors have pure joy in the investment goals they’ve helped investors achieve. In my own personal experience with my husband working with a financial advisor to do college savings, I can tell you now the fact that we did it has been really beneficial. Twenty years ago I couldn’t quite believe that college would be such a cost today. A good advisor knows that they need to protect their clients.
Q. I think I know the answer to this next question but who have been your mentors along the way?
A. Clearly, Chuck Widger, our founder, has been my most important mentor. He’s very progressive. In 1991, as a young professional I was allowed to work out of the house and if you think of technology in 1991, email didn’t exist, at least at a corporate level. The fact that I was able to work two hours away out of the house was very unusual back then. Because of that, I was able to manage a very successful career while having three wonderful children. Chuck never saw gender as an issue. He created a flexible work environment that wasn’t possible in a lot of other industries. He pushed me in some cases to do many different things in the organization, with sales being one of them. You put a CPA in the field in their mid-thirties and say, “Go sell something in New York City.” It was crazy, but he did that and I was successful. If I did not have that experience for the six or seven years that I did it, I would never be able to be in my chair today. When you think of women as CEOs in the financial community, there are not many of us, unfortunately. I think there will be more in the future. It wasn’t about gender at Brinker Capital. It was all about getting the job done. I would also say John Coyne, our Vice Chairman, has been a great mentor to me as well. John was instrumental in teaching me how to be a better salesperson, how to be a better listener and how to connect more to the financial advisor. John has an uncanny ability of really reading the room and understanding how to best serve the financial advisor community. That is one of his tremendous strengths. He brought that to me. Again, these experiences weren’t all love affairs when John had to tell me I was a terrible public speaker and sent me to training. I don’t think I talked to him for a month. But that is what a good mentor does – helps you use your strengths but also works to improve your weaknesses… Chuck and John have both been tremendously instrumental in my career here. There are many financial advisors who I credit with opening my eyes to what the real job is. You can stay insulated inside an organization and build product, but it isn’t until you actually sit across the kitchen table from an investor or with that advisor, and you’re dealing with the death of a spouse, or working through their estate planning, or college funding. That’s when you really have a sense of the products you have and what they actually do. I have been very fortunate to have a tremendous amount of support over my career. It is continual support. It is an ever-changing world and we need to keep learning.
Q. Absolutely. In a business sense and specifically in the context of being CEO at Brinker Capital what keeps you up at night?
A. The regulatory environment is difficult. You are constantly making sure you are doing the right thing. Currently, for example, all the news is about cyber security. It is unfortunate. Earlier we were talking about things we’re not doing but other people are doing. The cyber security challenge is a tough one. Our whole industry – and virtually any industry – is focused on the best ways to insulate their firm and manage their brand with reputational risks because of that. I have a good team, so I don’t worry so much about the day-to-day items because everyone is on it. Another thing I worry about is whether I have provided the right resources? Things like that. I like to turn around your question and comment on what gets me up in the morning. What gets me up in the morning each day is that I want to ensure we are providing the best service possible to our clients and making sure we are delivering on our value proposition of gathering great ideas and implementing them through a strong investment discipline in order to achieve better outcomes for investors. It’s not always easy. It is one of those things where you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Q. Last question. I’ll give you Chuck’s answer to this after you give me your answer. I don’t know if you are a car person, this may not be fair, but if Brinker Capital were to be an automobile what make and model would it be?
A. At Brinker Capital, we talk about achieving service excellence, and sometimes we tie it to organizations outside of the financial services community. I like to compare our service to the Four Seasons or The Ritz because they are extremely focused on treating the customer with the best service possible. If we were a car, I feel like we would be privately owned and have a family kind of feel. Ford is a good example. They are committed to delivery. I personally love BMW as a car; I have one and I like the performance, but I would say Ford in terms of their commitment to being dedicated to family, longevity and consistent delivery. We started out as eight of us with $100 million in assets under management just getting it done every day. What was Chuck’s car choice? I am fascinated to know.
Chuck said he had a lot of admiration for Toyota. He said Destinations, your Mutual Fund at the time for the $100,000-$500,000 investor, was the Toyota Camry. Sort of the everyday family vehicle. Your Separate Accounts product was a Lexus, a high-end product. You had different high quality offerings for different market segments under the one brand.
That is interesting. I think that actually applies today. As we serve the mass-affluent, the high net worth and ultra-high net worth, we have different offerings and different delivery mechanisms, but the same commitment to quality and service. You can use Chuck’s too. I think that is still appropriate.