The unlikely appeal of Edward Jones.
Jim Weddle is a 40-year veteran of the fourth-largest financial advisory firm in North America, with 12,000 branches across the U.S. and three home offices in St. Louis; Tempe, Ariz.; and Mississauga, Ontario. He recently spoke to Fortune about investment advising, the surge of “fintech” (financial technology startups), and millennials.
Fortune: According to Great Place to Work’s survey, young people love working at Edward Jones—their feedback helped put the company at No. 10 on our list of the 100 Best Workplaces for Millennials. What’s your secret?
Weddle: That was terrific news. Millennials are finding Edward Jones to be a great place to build their careers. What makes us a little different: People are proud of the work that we do. We help investors achieve very important life goals, such as sending the kids to college and preparing for retirement. It’s extraordinarily important. People feel good about their part in helping our clients accomplish those goals.
How does being organized as a partnership benefit your workers?
We have 38,000 associates across our network, and 20,000 of those associates are limited partners. At Edward Jones everybody has the opportunity to become a limited partner and owner of the firm. I think owners act differently than employees. They bring their A game every day. There’s a sense of pride.
Every day? How do you help 38,000 people stay focused and deliver?
You have to constantly work on engaging the entire organization. We are geographically dispersed. There’s definite potential for people to not know the direction, the goals of the firm, and so forth. We work really hard on sharing the business plan, the objectives. On a monthly basis we update the entire firm through video and of course electronic communications. We make extensive use of video—we even have a studio in our headquarters and sometimes do live broadcasts. So that helps to keep people pulling in the same direction.
Mobile banking and startups are presenting even more challenges. How are you responding to the rise of fintech?
I think it’s going to make us all better. We have a mobile app where I can scan a check and upload it, but that’s not whiz-bang stuff. We are one of the only firms that has figured out how to provide texting from our branches to our clients. The online providers are developing new technology, new functionality that we’re studying very, very carefully. However, having access to the Internet does not make people DIY investors. I can look up a lot of information on health online, but I still go to a doctor. I can look up a lot of information on taxes, but I still go to a CPA because I appreciate the expertise.
Are you seeing new competitors as younger users demand digital tools?
There’s competition everywhere. That’s why the website is so important. We love the face-to-face model, but we’ve also got WebEx technology in our branches that allows our financial advisers and clients to look at each other’s computers. It’s very cool stuff. Ten years ago it didn’t exist, and 10 years from now we’ll look back and think, “Gee, wasn’t that cute?” because something better will have replaced it.
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A version of this article appears in the March 15, 2016 issue of Fortune with the headline “A Millennial Favorite—at 94.”