SARAH BRILLINGER, Senior Branch Manager, Raymond James Ltd. in Ottawa, Ontario
“Making the world better, one Advisor at a time”
Sarah Brillinger is determined to make the world a better place. She’s an environmentalist, a vegan, and an animal rights advocate. She is, by her own admission, a bit of an outlier in the financial industry. But you could also call Sarah an “optimistic realist”: she knows that making the world better is a big task, but it’s possible. And it all begins in your own backyard.
In Sarah’s case, it also begins in your own branches.
Sarah has been making life better for Financial Advisors and their clients for more than two decades. As Senior Branch Manager at Raymond James, Sarah runs branches in Ottawa and Kanata, supporting Advisor teams as well as taking care of her own small book of clients. She began her career as a Branch Administrator at Edwards Jones in 2001. It was a job she fell into quite by accident, but soon also fell in love with – especially when she saw the potential to really help people.
Education is key to helping people succeed
“There’s a real lack of knowledge,” says Sarah. “They don’t teach you personal finance in school. It’s a real gap.” Sarah is working on developing an educational program for young people that would fill that gap. “I’d love to get in front of kids and say, don’t make the mistakes I made,” she laughs.
Early on, Sarah saw that adults were also lacking financial knowledge. “I realized that people don’t know how to best utilize an RRSP or how much money they actually need to retire. They think, I pay into the CPP, and the government will take care of me. The reality is, if you want a comfortable retirement, you have to start thinking about it when you’re really young,” she says. “But that’s not where your mind usually is.”
She saw her potential to educate people, and that started with herself. Over the years, Sarah attained several certifications from the Canadian Securities Institute and completed other courses that enable her to help others. Today she regularly coordinates educational opportunities for advisors and clients, tapping into the firm’s partners to share their expertise.
“We work with a whole suite of mutual fund companies,” she says. These companies are rich with knowledge and resources, so they always have specialists who are available at any time to talk. These are lawyers, accountants. They will give us access to their professional network to get in front of our clients. It’s amazing.”
Sarah also coordinates education for Advisors, and she works with a full practice management department that’s solely focused on making sure Advisors are running their practice to the best of their ability. This includes doing gap analysis, which looks at an advisor’s practice as a whole to identify gaps, as well as new opportunities.
Creating a culture where people can be their best
Helping others do things better is at the heart of Sarah’s role as Branch Manager, who manages both the administrative and sales side of the firm. “A big part of my mandate is to grow, so I think of the Advisor teams as my clients. Day in and day out I think, what can I do to help them with their businesses and their clients?
She also helps them help the community. Sarah organizes monthly events that encourage staff to give back, like collecting toys for underprivileged kids, and working on a food bank farm during the summer. She’s also a huge proponent of ESG investing (investing in companies with a strong focus on environmental, social, and governance issues). “I’m constantly promoting that within the branch,” she says. “It’s a way you can put your money where your values are. The interest from clients is definitely growing and they want to put their dollars where they believe in things. I think it’s fantastic because it’s going to be the markets that change things.”
Creating a culture of both community and excellence is important to Sarah, and integral in her work to attract talented Advisors to the firm. Sarah strives to maintain an environment that’s equal parts nurturing and hands off, because she knows that Raymond James’ Advisors are entrepreneurs at heart. “If you want to come and run things the way you run them, perfect,” she says.
It's your business, your way
“When you join us, all your clients are your clients. They’re not Raymond James’ clients. We say, you own your clients, so we’re going to make sure we make you happy because you’re our priority. It’s a different experience with us. You’re not a number. You’re not an employee who clocks in. You’re the owner of the business and I’m here to support you.”
Unlike banks, there are no sales quotas and no one dictating how an advisor should do things. Like banks, however, Raymond James offers a full suite of services, like financial planners, trust and estates professionals, insurance specialists, and other inhouse specialists.
Somewhat unique to Raymond James is that its Advisors can become dually licensed, a benefit to clients who have worked in the US and move back to Canada. “We have a platform called Raymond James Limited USA,” Sarah explains. “You can become US licensed, then offer your services to American clients. It’s a big advantage that’s hard to come by.” As a wholly owned subsidiary of Raymond James Financial in the US – the fifth largest investment broker in the states – the Canadian division can do transactions on the American side, enabling clients who have American investments accounts or a 401K, etc. to transfer the money to a Raymond James advisor in Canada, instead of transferring the account out and facing major tax implications.
Bringing in more like-minded Advisors is part of Sarah’s plans for the future, addressing both a will to expand and a need to create succession plans for Advisors who are starting to think about retirement. “We really need some younger people getting into the industry,” she says. “We’re looking for younger people, maybe in the early part of their career, who are interested in growing, perhaps interested in purchasing a book in the future and being part of a succession plan.”
Sarah herself has been working with the same core group of people for most of her 20 years in the industry; people who followed her predecessor and herself to Raymond James when they moved there in 2008. As the branches have expanded (from two people opening one branch in 2008 to 40 people over two branches today), all staff share a genuine interest in the wellbeing of clients, and a desire to work with people they call friends, not just co-workers and clients. “It's such a great group. Everyone likes each other. We like going into the office. I hang out with a lot of these people in my off time too. So we need somebody to have that same sort of synergy. Just nice people, that’s what we’re on the lookout for.”
Most of Sarah’s own clients are relatives and friends, but she treats all of them like family. “You become so involved with these people that it’s about more than money,” she says. “I’m helping people reach goals and things that are important them. They know if they were to pass away, their family is going to be ok. It weighs on people a lot. The best part of being an Advisor or working with Advisors is knowing you’re giving them peace of mind.”
It's also about being there in good times and bad. Sarah once arrived at a client’s home to find he had passed away. She stayed to help his son, who had flown in from the US. “It was just such a challenging time. I helped him clean his house and get everything ready,” she says. “You become an extended part of the family.”
When Sarah’s not at one of the branches, or at home with her husband and three cats, or at a live music event, she’s likely volunteering at one of the causes close to her heart, like the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup. Every year she organizes a cleanup of garbage on the Westboro Beach on the Ottawa River. She’s also a member of Raymond James’ The Green Team, where she looks for ways to be more environmentally sustainable.
“I care a lot about the future of the world,” says Sarah. “I think, how do I not impact the Earth? It’s such a beautiful place to live. We’re lucky.”
As Sarah strives to reduce her impact on the bigger environment, she continues making a major impact on the environment within her own branches. If she can’t (yet) fix the world, she will continue making Raymond James the best place it can be for Advisors and their clients.
Janice Tuff is a professional writer and communicator who got her start in radio copywriting.
Three decades later, she continues to draw upon the valuable lessons learned in her radio days: grab your audience’s attention quickly and always tell an engaging tale.
Sarah Brillinger, Senior Branch Manager
Raymond James Ltd.
Ottawa Corporate Branch
45 O'Connor St Ste 750 Ottawa, ON K1P 1A4
Kanata Corporate Branch
450 March Road Unit 400 Kanata, ON K2K 3K2
Raymond James Ltd. is a Member Canadian Investor Protection. No recommendation of any product or service would be made without a thorough review of an individual’s financial goals and risk tolerance.