Edward Jones knows Main Street America like no one else. Advisors are active in and leaders of community organizations, from the Chamber of Commerce and Rotary to girls softball. They know their customers. And they continually find ways to serve them better—only now in the digital age.

Any competitors who consider Edward Jones “sleepy” or “boring” do so at their peril. This is why I included them among four leaders—along with Morgan Stanley, Empower and Franklin Templeton—with the potential to become “the Amazon of financial services.”

Leaders Set The Course And Get It Done
I’ve spent time with executives at these firms to get underneath their strategies. Each is responding in its way to a generational shift in what clients want and how advisors will work:

• Advice will be digital and human—much more than the sum of those parts.

• Technology will dynamically coordinate clients’ goals, investments, risk tolerance, preferences, timelines and tax brackets for better financial outcomes.

• Personalized financial advice will be available to all, regardless of age, experience and wealth.

In Jones’s case, they are adapting and innovating by:

• Investing $1 billion in technology last year, with much more to come.

• Conducting groundbreaking research with Age Wave/Harris Poll redefining retirement

• Growing executive and staff talent, including 1,500 to 1,700 new advisors.

• Making significant changes to branch operations, including teaming options for advisors and their support personnel.

• Adding lending to its services.  

• Reshaping the legendary Jones culture for the future of advice.

Many call me crazy when I say Edward Jones is a transformational leader. They wonder if this 101-year-old firm measures up. But see for yourself and listen to my WealthTech on Deck Podcast with Ken Cella, head of branch development at Edward Jones, and Age Wave founder and CEO Ken Dychtwald.

“We’re building out a renewed focus fueled by our purpose,” Cella said.

New Ideas Are Not New At Edward Jones
Founded in 1922 by Edward D. Jones Sr., the company was a traditional broker-dealer based in St. Louis.

Ted Jones, the founder’s son, broke new ground by selling securities door to door. John Bachmann became managing partner in 1980 and led the firm’s dramatic growth, expanding beyond small cities and towns to large metropolitan areas. Jones tripled in size in five years.

With nearly 19,000 advisors and branches in 68% of U.S. counties today, Edward Jones is part of the fabric of the communities they serve. Cella said today’s changes are as consequential as those launched by Ted Jones and Bachmann. I believe what’s being built now will have an exponential impact.

“We’re doing this with an outsized investment in people and an outsized investment in technology,” Cella said. Investing in people includes “providing the right support for women and people of color to join our firm.”

Retirement Redefined
The research Dychtwald and The Harris Poll conducted is in plain sight on Jones’ website. The study identified four pillars of retirement—family, health, purpose and finances—and five forces shaping it:

• Greater longevity 

• More boomers and Gen Xers

• Long-term care woes

• Personal responsibility for retirement income

• The Covid-19 pandemic 

This research informs Jones’s strategy around training, operations and technology. Advisors are trained in client conversations that explore what matters most and address worries about outliving savings, healthcare costs and family and legacy issues.

“We found it has ignited a passion that already existed among our advisors,” Cella said, adding many were thrilled to expand conversations beyond fluctuations in the markets.  

Technology Enables Advisors
Their tech transformation is expanding advisor capacity to attract and serve more clients and produce better outcomes as they embrace keener market segmentation and improve practice management.  

Because even with the firm’s sprawling geographic footprint, it serves only a fraction of the clients who could benefit from financial advice, Cella said.

Jones is working with Envestnet|MoneyGuide to empower advisors to create comprehensive views of clients’ portfolios and optimize their financial plans. Capabilities to be added will enable advisors to improve outcomes across a client portfolio with the following:

• Appropriate product mix

• Risk management strategies

• Generating tax alpha in both accumulation and retirement income

• Social Security optimization

“Our transformation is not robotic. It is not about clients interacting with machines,” Cella said. “Our approach is human to human with strong technology in the background that supports that, but in an experiential-driven way.”

Heard From The Field
Jones advisors have told Dychtwald their clients notice and like the change in their discussions resulting from the insight the research provides and training they’ve received.

“I’ve had other financial advisors in my life. No one asked me questions” about family needs, purpose in retirement and worries about the future, Dychtwald said.

“They just asked me about market risk and my age relative to retirement. Widening the discussion to more holistic concerns has yielded a great reaction from clients.”

Jack Sharry co-chairs MMI's Digital Advice Community, is on the Next Chapter Executive Leadership Advisory Board and co-chairs Next Chapter Leadership in Action. He hosts the WealthTech on Deck podcast and is executive vice president at LifeYield.