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Featured Contributor: Kelli Cruz

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with industry veteran Kelli Cruz to talk about her firm, Advisors and her beloved #SFGiants.

You’ve been in the Bay Area your whole life?

Yes, I am a California Girl through and through. I grew up in Moraga, home of the St. Mary’s Gaels, and went to college in San Francisco, and I really haven’t ventured too far and why would I? I travel a lot with my consulting work and I have to say every time the plane is making its descent back into the Bay Area I just marvel at the absolute beauty of the area. I am a trail runner and I am constantly finding a new trail that just takes my breath away. My mantra is “so many trails and so little time to run them all”. The only time I ever seriously contemplated moving away was when I was dating my husband Tom who at the time was living in Minneapolis. Fortunately it didn’t take much convincing to get him to move to California. It would be hard to leave the Bay Area not to mention according to Brooke Southhall and Tim Welsh the SF Bay Area is the West Coast hub of the RIA Industry.

You’ve worked for two titans in the area—Schwab and Wells Fargo. How were they alike and how did they differ?

I have worked for some great Bay Area based corporations starting with Bank of America, the Clorox Company, Wells Fargo and the last was with Charles Schwab. I tried working in manufacturing at Clorox but after only a couple of years I found myself being pulled back into financial services. The focus in manufacturing is on the product, the plant facility, safety, etc., very little focus on the people. Financial services is a relationship based business without people you don’t have a product. Since my calling is human capital (the motivation and engagement of employees), I need to work in an industry where people are the biggest asset which is why financial services has been such a great match for me.

There are some pretty big differences between Wells Fargo and Schwab. First and foremost Wells Fargo is a bank and Schwab a brokerage firm, and this creates huge differences in the cultures. Since compliance and regulations rule banking the decision making process is slow and the overall attitude of the company is very conservative. Every conceivable angle has to be examined and dissected before getting the green light on new projects and products. A lot of time is spent on the internal process, getting people to agree with your ideas and as a result there is a lot of bureaucracy to navigate. The positive side to the culture is that products and service are well conceived and once they hit the market they are ready to go. Schwab is very consensus oriented too and way too much time is spent on the internal process there as well, but the main difference at least when I worked at Schwab Advisor Services is that no matter what the role everyone was focused on the end client, the advisor. It was a great culture everyone was engaged and focused on solving problems for the advisors. Programs were incubated and delivered to market in an incredibly short period of time. It was a very dynamic and rewarding environment for over achievers like me.

What does Cruz Consulting do and how do you help Advisors?

CCG ensures that the most important area of their business—managing people—is made easier. We do this with customized project-based ‘Human Capital’ consulting engagements that include strategies, plans, processes, and implementation in the areas of: talent acquisition, compensation design, goals setting & performance management, and succession planning. For over two decades, our team has been a leading source of market intelligence and industry best practices for advisory firms and industry partners.

Our promise: to give firms the structure, processes, and the confidence they need to manage and optimize their people, so that they can serve clients better, grow their firm, and be more profitable.

How it is out here as a small business owner?

I thoroughly enjoy owning my own business and we are so lucky to work with some of the best firms in the industry. I have a great partner, Jennifer Specter, we have worked together since 2006 and make a great team. Although I am not an advisor, I have a deep respect for the services they provide and completely believe in the independent advice model. If I were going to reinvent myself (which may happen) I would definitely be a financial advisor. Without financial freedom we are so limited in what we can do in life. I believe the independent advice model and financial planning give people the freedom to pursue what they want to do in their life and how they do it. I feel very fortunate to work with independent advisors and this industry.

You’ve also been very involved and close to studies on the industry from a data perspective—what are three things Advisors have to pay most attention to.

I think the most important take away from industry studies over the years and that which differentiates the top-performing firms from all the others, is the commitment to investing back into the firm and creating a real business. Top-performing firms are better managers, both financially and opera­tionally. We find they have a disciplined approach to strategic planning that includes investing in technology that allows them to innovate and evolve their client service delivery as well as a human capital plan that can succeed beyond the first generation of owners. Key investments in technology, human capital and having an internal succession plan are critical components. Too many firms do not have a strategy for developing both the next generation of clients and the generation of talent on their team. To me these two go hand in hand and we work with firms to help them develop human capital programs that develop the next generation of owners.

Did you make it to the Giants season opener?

As you know I am a big sports fan. I get my love for sports from my Mom. I grew up routing for all the Bay Area teams. I am so thankful that my Mom got to see the SF Giants win three World Series before she passed away. I did make it to the season opener and although we didn’t win, the raising of the pennant flag and pregame ceremony was an amazing experience and made me proud. Our skipper Bruce Bochy has created a culture that is all about the team. They treat each other like family. The players really care about each other and play selflessly, it is all about the team effort not the individual performance. If one player gets hurt another steps up and fills in to help the team win. I believe a lot can be learned from how Bruce Bochy manages. He is the best at platooning or filling in with substitutes. He always has a contingency plan for getting the job done. The Giants organization is always scouting for talent and developing the next great player. They are notorious for giving rookies a chance to step up and play. I think advisors should take a page from his playbook and start investing in and developing a “farm team”. Develop young talent that can step-in and contribute in a big way to the team effort.

Prediction for this year? A fourth Series win in 6 years without Panda?

Although it is an odd year and the Giants have only won the World Series in even years (2010, 2012, 2014) never and I mean NEVER count the SF Giants out of the race. If we can make it to the post season we are unbeatable. Just ask the Pirates, Nationals, Cardinals and Royals.