Several months ago, Dennis Zank, the president of Raymond James & Associates, was on a recruiting trip in Oklahoma and met with a dissatisfied $700,000 wirehouse producer.

The producer had left one wirehouse for another, his deferred compensation paid in the new employer’s stock, which later plummeted. Zank asked this 24-year veteran of the major firm landscape to guess what percentage of revenues the producer’s brokerage arm contributed to the parent company. The advisor guessed: 38%? Not even close. That’s when Zank looked at him and said: “You want to be part of an organization whose contribution is relevant. I’m not interested in being part of something that’s not important.”

That’s the message Zank wanted to emphasize at the 16th Annual Raymond James Women Advisors Symposium on Friday, where he took some of the practices at the wirehouses to task. “The latest craze right now is the fees being imposed when an account isn’t above $1 million. If we negatively impact every relationship with every client under $1 million, we’ll put every advisor in the business, out of business,” he said. “My 82-year-old mother isn’t a wealthy woman but her money is important to her.”

The pressure on advisors to gather all the assets of very wealthy clients is fierce. At the same time, everyone in the industry talks about serving their clients. And, while both the firms and the advisors should make a profit for their services, they need to be careful that they are serving the best interests of their clients and not merely serving them up.

Zank told the women advisors attending the symposium in Florida that Raymond James, in both its employee and independent channels, performed relatively well during the financial crisis and afterward without TARP funds because “we remained who we are.”

And, the firm is a private client business first and foremost, insisted Zank and Dick Averitt, chairman and chief executive officer of Raymond James Financial Services, the independent arm.

Zank doesn’t believe that Raymond James needs to be the size of the giant firms to succeed. He pointed out that his firm “didn’t get carried away with proprietary trading” and other practices that are now facing regulatory scrutiny.

Averitt said that in the third quarter of this fiscal year, RJFS represented 37.9% of the overall company’s revenues, while Raymond James & Associates represented 23%.  Raymond James, Averitt said, is “a brokerage company that owns a bank” instead of a bank-dominated culture like Bank of America Merrill Lynch [BAC] or Wells Fargo [WFC] that  acquired Wachovia and A.G. Edwards.

Among the five-year goals for RJFS, Averitt said are to increase revenues by 15% annually, grow existing branch production by  5%, improve advisor desktop and other technology and eliminate some transaction fees to better serve clients.

Raymond James advisor headcount is small compared to the four giants. Zank’s unit has just fewer than 1,300 advisors while RJFS has 3,230. But retention is strong, Zank said. He lost only eight advisors who produced $300,000 or more and he has hired 85 new advisors during the last fiscal year and approximately 700 during the last four years. Furthermore, he predicted that the firm will continue to add people. “We’re getting more aggressive on deal sizes,” he said, “but we won’t ever be the biggest on The Street.”

Zank said he would also like to see a product-neutral grid at the firm.

However, it’s the client experience and the advisor environment that the firm promotes. “Whether we like it or not, every one of [the advisors] is a free agent. They control their books of business.”

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