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St. Pete’s ‘sunshine premium’ touted at New York financial panel

Margie Manning

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More than 50 Finovate Conference attendees, prospect companies, developers, and site selection consultants attended the 'Future of Finance in the Sunshine City' forum at Castell Rooftop in Times Square. (All photos courtesy of Greater St. Pete Area EDC.)

The high-profile headquarters move by Dynasty Financial Partners from Manhattan to St. Petersburg could be replicated by other New York firms.

The signature cocktail, “Liquid Sunshine City,” William Dean Chocolates, and “You are my Sunshine City t-shirts” gave the event space a true St. Pete vibe.

J.P. DuBuque, president of the Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp., met with 10 New York firms that are considering expanding to St. Pete or relocating here during a Sept. 25 business development mission, and seven of those companies are now planning visits here, the EDC said.

The mission was highlighted by panel discussions on the business opportunities in St. Pete.

Shirl Penney, president and CEO of Dynasty, and Tash Elwyn, president and CEO of Raymond James & Associates, spoke at a forum sponsored by the EDC and the city of St. Petersburg that attracted national media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Barron’s.

Elwyn and Penney also joined Rachel Carpenter, co-founder and CEO of St. Petersburg-based financial technology firm Intrinio, at a second panel discussion moderated by St. Pete’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence Reuben Pressman, who is founder and CEO of Presence, a higher education data and software firm. More than 50 attendees from Finovate, a financial technology conference taking place nearby, attended that talk, as did representatives from prospect companies, developers and site selection consultants.

EDC investors Mack Feldman, vice president of Feldman Equities, and Melissa Rutland, owner and broker of commercial real estate brokerage Rutland Florida Gulf Group, attended the reception, also sponsored by the EDC and the city of St. Petersburg.

“One of the promises I made to the citizens of St. Petersburg is that we would raise the profile of the Sunshine City. One of the ways we do that is bringing top talent to St. Pete. Working together with our partners on visits like the one our Marketing team just led to New York City is critical to that process,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman, in a statement provided by the EDC.

Tech investments

Penney and Elwyn focused on the lower cost of living and high quality of life, including shorter commute times, in St. Petersburg.

Suzanne Siracuse, financial services industry consultant, moderated the panel featuring Tash Elwyn of Raymond James and Shirl Penney of Dynasty.

Dynasty moved its headquarters to 200 Central and now occupies the entire 15th floor of the downtown office tower. Real estate costs are 70 percent less expensive than in New York, Penny said. While workers in St. Pete are just as talented as workers in New York, the cost of hiring an employee is 20 percent lower in St. Pete, he said.

Those cost savings have led to margin expansion and put Dynasty in an advantageous position for an eventual market pull-back, Penney said.

“We view it as the sunshine premium,” Elwyn said. “No term better encapsulates all the great points that Shirl made about why Dynasty chose to relocate to St. Petersburg. It’s why Raymond James thrives in St. Pete. It’s the ability to attract and retain talent based on the quality of life, the arts community, which couldn’t be more vibrant and thriving, the restaurants, the weather, the commute. My commute is 15 minutes on a good day and 17 minutes on a bad day. Referring to that as the sunshine premium is what it’s all about and it’s what led us, and will led Dynasty, to continue to be successful.”

Both firms are using their cost savings for tech investments.

Dynasty, a back-office service provider for high-end independent registered investment advisors, has technology that allows clients and advisers to interact more smoothly, as well as tools that make regulatory compliance and portfolio management easier.

“Advisors who are manually managing individual accounts can’t scale, so we’re investing significantly in rebalancing tools and trading tools for our advisors so that they can be in a position to win on a disproportionate basis, which is critical at a time when more Americans than ever need financial advice and there’s fewer advisors left in the industry because we don’t do a good job as an industry recruiting new advisors to cover and service them. The only way to fill that void is tech-enabling more sophisticated quality advisors to fill the need for that financial advice for the people that need it,” Penney said.

Raymond James has invested in back-office technology that streamlines and improves processes and uses automation to free up humans to perform higher-value activities, Elwyn said.

The company also has mobile technology, allowing financial advisors to work from anywhere.

“From a client-facing standpoint, a lot of investment is directed towards the digital experience for clients through our client access portal and the client’s ability to access and interact with the goal plan that their financial advisor has developed for them,” Elwyn said. “We have a component in our client access portal called the Play Zone, where the husband and wife over a glass of wine or a cup of coffee can interact with the plan that their advisor has been building with them, and they can experience it and do scenario planning right from the comfort of their own couch.”

Culture

Cost savings are just part of the advantages of a St. Petersburg location, Elwyn said.

“It is a forward-thinking community, it’s a young vibrant community and there’s a tremendous focus both in Raymond James and in St. Petersburg on the importance of diversity and inclusion,” he said.

Raymond James’ diversity initiatives include employee networks for women, black and most recently LGBT financial advisors. They are key parts of the culture at the firm.

“It’s what I’ll call the lack of sharp elbows. Everybody is there to support each other. I think that’s every bit as true within the firm as it is within St. Petersburg and the broader Tampa Bay region. It makes it a fun place to work and a fun place to live and it goes back to the sunshine premium I described,” Elwyn said.

Culture is vital for corporate success, Penney said.

“The best leaders attract the best people who build the best cultures, and the firms that have the best cultures are the ones that are going to win on a disproportionate basis,” Penney said. “With St. Petersburg, I would say it’s easier. It’s easier to execute on your cultural goals and objectives because it’s not as spread out. When you don’t have an hour-and-a-half commute to have to get home, you can do things after hours. You can take a sailboat cruise with the team after work. You can walk to many professional sports games. I walk to the Tampa Bay Rays games and to the Rowdies games from the office, and then I walk back to my condo downtown,” Penney said. “That quality of life enhancement just makes it easier for the company to focus on events that really help define and build the culture. The happiest, most engaged employees then in turn create the best relationships with clients.”

They also described what they see as “game-changers” for the wealth management industry. Penney is keeping a close eye on how large-scale technology companies expand into financial service products, such as Apple’s new credit card, Apple Card.

Elwyn is watching digital trends.

“It was just a few years ago with the rise of the robo-advisor that people were predicting the demise of human advice. It’s to the contrary. That same technology that may threaten some will make stronger and more competitive businesses that are prudent and innovative about how they invest in technology,” Elwyn said. “The focus on tech is a differentiator and a game changer. I’m excited and confident about how digitally enabled advisors are going to be able to even better serve their clients in the years ahead.”

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