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Before coming aboard, every prospective hire at Raymond James must make a home-office visit. It allows the advisor to evaluate the firm, while giving senior officials a chance to get acquainted with the advisor. When advisors visit the St. Petersburg, Fla., headquarters of Raymond James, they will meet the firm’s decision-makers, often including the executive chairman, Tom James.

I made a similar visit in January to discover what makes Raymond James different. It was a visit hundreds of Morgan Keegan advisors also made, perhaps apprehensively, after being acquired by Raymond James in 2012.

I learned the firm offers advisors five different business models with varying degrees of independence, a highly flexible approach. First, an advisor can align as a traditional employee, working in a branch with a wirehouse-like payout and full benefits. The independent contractor channel offers an 80% to 100% payout while asking advisors to shoulder all of their own expenses.

For those who want independence with less ownership responsibility, Raymond James offers the independent employee model. Payouts are in the 70% to 78% range; however, this group receives full benefits.

The advisor is responsible for office expenses, including rent as well as support-staff salaries, but the firm covers almost everything else, including insurance benefits.

Want more independence? The RIA offering, where the payout is 100% of the fees, might be for you. These advisors are responsible for all business expenses, but the firm makes available all of its intellectual properties and support. Last, the firm works with numerous banks and credit unions to support a brokerage offering.

No matter how advisors choose to align, they are entitled to the “Financial Advisor Bill of Rights.” The first of these rights is perhaps the most striking. It grants you, the advisor, ownership of your client base, including your right to sell it. This privilege holds true for both the independent and employee models.

Another right says, “You will never be influenced to do anything that’s not in your client’s best interest-no sales quotas, account size restrictions, product pushes or ticket charges designed to influence your decisions.” What makes Raymond James different? The culture is one of trust. The firm believes that advisors are individuals and that each will put his or her clients’ interests first. It is supportive and allows for individual creativity.

The marketing support all Raymond James advisors receive shows this culture in action. In addition to helping advisors to create and support unique websites, the marketing department will actively assist advisors who choose to have a presence on social media. The marketing experts understand that social media helps advisors stay engaged with clients, and they have a library of preapproved content for LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook. In addition, marketing is ready to route self-written content through compliance.

The firm also opens its door regularly to clients. Advisors are encouraged to escort top clients on home-office visits. This program, called By Invitation Only, is offered to clients or even prospects who have $1.5 million or more in investable assets. These BIO Visits, which have been going on since 1988, accommodated more than 200 clients and their advisors last year.

During my visit, I talked with Tash Elwyn, the president of the Private Client Group at Raymond James & Associates. The firm “continues to place quality over quantity,” he says. It is not looking to become the biggest firm, but rather, “Our goal is to become the premier alternative to Wall Street.” The fact that a significant portion of Raymond James’ stock is employee-owned is a tribute to confidence in the firm.