There is a 20-year age difference between Shelly Church and Ilona Sawin, yet they have found enough common ground to form their own financial advisory team at Raymond James & Associates.

Designing a team isn’t easy and didn’t come naturally to Church, she told a group of colleagues Wednesday at the 16th Annual Raymond James Women Advisors Symposium.

“I’m not sure I wanted a team in the beginning,” says Church, the senior member of the Church & Sawin Planning Group (RJA), who began her practice as a solo practitioner in 1984.

But teams are where the industry has been heading for years. They give clients a better service experience, increase an advisor’s productivity and allow her to focus on her expertise, all while enhancing her personal life, Church says.

One of her early experiences in partnering with someone else came when she joined up with an insurance expert. “We shared fees for seven or eight years and he got me educated so I could take it from there.” However, an advisor team is a full-time business marriage, Church says, noting that she spends more of her waking moments with Sawin than with her own husband.

And Church says, “Its more crucial that you have the marriage part down.”

According to Church, the qualities for a good marriage at a financial advisory firm is: Trust; similar values; the ability to challenge each other; you have to like each other; similar values and goals.

She also laid out the process of building and maintaining a successful team: Share vision and value proposition; discuss expectation, strength and opportunity; complete a personal profile; complete a business plan; decide on a trial period or a full merger; establish a compensation arrangement that aligns with strategy and goals; and sign a partnering/team agreement including an exit strategy.

That said, Church admits with a laugh that “Ilona has life insurance on me.”

Sawin has been with Church since 1997 when she joined as a sales assistant. She rose to associate financial advisor three years later and became a junior partner in 2003. She became a full partner in 2007.

The team’s success, Church says, is the willingness of the two women to communicate with each other when a problem or concern arises.

“Ilona is ultimately buying my book,” she said. “We have an agreed upon value down the road.”


What do you think? What kind of experience have you had in building an advisory team? What advice can you offer colleagues?

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All On Wall Street content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access