It’s one of the biggest banks that many wealthy Americans, or soon-to-be-wealthy ones, have never heard of. That could change soon for Royal Bank of Canada.
Following its hire of a $1 billion advisor team from First Republic last week, the U.S. arm of the bank’s RBC Wealth Management unit is ready to pitch itself to advisors and clients as a stable, Canada-nice and highly competitive place to work with.
“We see that both financial advisors and clients are more concerned than ever before, about the safety and security of assets,” Tom Sagissor, the president of RBC Wealth Management in the U.S., said in an interview. “When you look at RBC, I mean, clearly [we are] one of the strongest and best capitalized banks in the world, with a high quality liquid balance sheet.”
The moment comes as RBC ramps up one of its biggest branding campaigns in recent years, as it partners with Major League Soccer in a four-year contract leading up to the World Cup in North America in 2026. RBC Wealth is also partnering with Apple, MLS’s exclusive broadcast partner, on a year-to-year basis to reach millions of sports fans who can help it grow outreach to the diversifying face of next-generation wealth in America.
“We haven’t really told our story historically, in the U.S., and we think it’s a great story to tell and it’s time we tell it,” Sean Kellenberger, the senior vice president and head of U.S. brand, marketing and digital solutions at RBC Wealth Management, said in an interview.
Andy Tasnady, an industry compensation consultant who has advised RBC Wealth Management on compensation structuring in past years, said the firm appeared to be less well-known by Americans, relative to their heft.
“They’re large, credible, but somewhat under the radar in terms of brand attention. They don’t have as big a marketing budget as a Merrill Lynch,” he said.
With these new contracts, RBC is telling both advisors and clients that it’s ready for its close-up.
‘Reverse inquiry’ grows at a sleeping giant The firm’s parent company RBC is currently the 10th largest bank in the world, with a market capitalization of around $140 billion.
Globally, across all its wealth management units RBC has 6,199 financial advisors, according to its first-quarter earnings report, but its U.S. presence has been muted compared with bigger players like Bank of America, whose Merrill and Private Bank units and other lines of business together reported 19,243 advisors in the first quarter.
“RBC Wealth Management has $510 billion in total client assets with more than 2,100 financial advisors operating in 187 locations in 42 states,” the firm said in an emailed press release last week announcing the First Republic hires. A spokesperson for the firm said Thursday in an email that this referred to the firm’s U.S. wealth footprint.
Those numbers could see a sizable bump next month, when the bank announces earnings again.
“Reverse inquiry has been very [strong], probably more so than ever before,” Sagissor said, meaning advisors or their recruiter representative initiating talks with RBC about moving there, rather than the usual other way around.
A spokesperson confirmed in an email Thursday that the First Republic hires had been unsolicited, as many similar hires to Morgan Stanley had been in recent weeks. The incoming advisors apparently rushed to join RBC — that team did not even have professional headshots ready to offer when Financial Planning initially reported their move.
Usually, experienced advisors take several months or even years to plan a move and conduct due diligence — which suggests the urgency of the moment for some of them, in particular those at First Republic.
Sagissor said the bank’s long history, “reputation for integrity” and projection of stability for clients, including capital stability, was central to that attraction. “Clients at RBC, they have the benefit of having $5 million in FDIC insurance on our cash bank deposit program,” he said, referring to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. standard protection requirements of $250,000 per investor and per account. “I don’t know of very many firms on the street that match that effort.”
Additionally, Sagissor argued, RBC offers advisors and associates a “warm, welcoming” environment and promises “autonomy” — conditions they might not get at a wirehouse. “We don’t put pressures on quotas or sales requirements. We just never have done that, we’re not going to do that,” Sagissor said.
Well before this moment, RBC had shown steady growth in the U.S. wealth market, Sagissor said.
“Since 2017, we’ve seen annual revenue growth of 10%,” he said. “This is largely due to an increase in advisor productivity, which is driven primarily by [a] specific focus of deepening relationships with our clients… by utilizing products, capabilities, platforms to enhance the financial advisor planning experience.”
Financial advisors at Sagissor’s business today have an average annual production of nearly $1.4 million, and they have recruited over 330 advisors since 2017, he said. Collectively, those new advisors managed around $100 billion of assets.
Although the firm does not have specific goals each year for how many advisors it plans to recruit or how many assets it plans to add, Sagissor said it was fair to assume that it plans to at least match those numbers in the next five years — growing either by identifying key markets that seem a fit for the brand, or by hiring “community-focused,” client-centered advisors in those markets and building the markets around them.
The firm is also scouting for diverse younger advisors who can help appeal to next-generation clients — especially women and racial minorities, Sagissor said.
Another key talent strategy involves “recruiting our own,” Sagissor said. To keep existing advisors happy, the firm invests in robust benefits and technology to promote high retention rates.
RBC Wealth’s U.S. arm also has a two-year trainee program for individuals who are looking to become advisors, called the Associate Financial Advisor program, and it encourages client associates — support staff for advisors — to consider joining if they would like to move up in the firm as an advisor.
“Since 2021, 29% of AFA trainees have joined the program from internal client associate and other client-facing support roles,” a company spokesperson said in an email.
‘Momentum’ Among advisors, RBC is a well-respected entity. “They’re viewed as very stable, very secure. There’s good name recognition, everybody’s heard of them,” Jodie Papike, the president of industry recruiting firm Cross-Search, said of RBC Wealth’s industry reputation.
Tasnady called the firm’s compensation “very competitive among the non-wirehouse firms.”
“Their growth has been based on hiring advisors that have been moving from the four largest firms, wirehouse firms, historically,” Tasnady, adding that he was not surprised about the appeal to First Republic advisors — who often came from wirehouses themselves.
At the same time, Papike said, RBC has the level of “services and the sophistication that their clients have come to expect” in terms of technology platforms and offerings on complex areas like estate planning.
The recent triumph in recruiting First Republic advisors means many more such advisors could follow soon, adding to that earlier record.
“In general for firms, once they get momentum, it’s almost like a snowball for other teams” to join, Papike said, adding that hearing about peers moving to a firm like RBC could create an added halo of desirability and legitimacy.
Papike said that last month’s banking crisis, which saw regional banks suffer liquidity scares, three banks shut down and Credit Suisse fold into Swiss rival UBS, would play to RBC’s benefit in appealing to advisors considering a move away from institutions perceived as less stable.
“What large teams with a lot of assets and high net worth clients are looking for, when they’re considering an option, is when they position their moves to their clients,” Papike said. “Is that client comfortable enough to come with them? That is one of the biggest factors.”
Organic growth via soccer
On the client-wooing end, the MLS partnership was announced earlier this year in February and involves TV ads at around 600 games, digital and streaming ads, participating in special events like the All Star Week and the MLS Cup and collaborations with MLS on community service projects like “Soccer for Success” to support “at-risk youths” and “Hometown Heroes” which will celebrate undersung local citizens.
The 26 MLS franchises in the U.S. happened to coincidentally match RBC’s existing regional presence in each of those areas.
Kellenberger said that soccer is the fastest growing sport in North America and most MLS fans are millennials.
Offering tickets to games will also be part of the sell. “We will host clients, employees and financial advisors, as well as try to reach fans and introduce them to RBC Wealth Management,” Kellenberger said. He added that Major League Soccer has “a really passionate fan base, are much more diverse than our typical client clientele, and are very community-focused.”
Added Sagissor: “When you look at this diverse fan base, 37% of the fan base is Spanish speaking. 47% are women. The average age is under 40. They’re educated, they’re passionate and they’re affluent.”
In the firm’s marketing campaign, Kellenberger said RBC would convey the firm’s offering of holistic financial planning in a volatile economy — a simple message, like a great first date, that can open the door to a potential future relationship without demanding commitment right away.
“That first date, you talk about yourself. You get to know each other. You wait till you get a little bit further down the line before you get into some of those, deeper conversations,” he said.
“Wealth planning, financial advice are what I would call considered purchases. So it takes some time. It’s a trust oriented relationship.”
Diana Cabrices, a marketing consultant for wealthtech companies serving advisors at Diana Cabrices Consulting in Denver, Colorado, said the focus on basic financial planning and literacy was a smart move for the firm.
“Financial companies look at sport sponsorships as a way to reach a pretty broad audience, and also associate themselves with the excitement and passion of sports. There’s data that shows that economic decision-making is primarily based on emotion,” Cabrices said in an interview.
She added that a message of financial literacy could be especially appealing to immigrant families, “in communities where historically they are financially illiterate.”
To maximize RBC’s appeal to new audiences, the campaign would also want to focus on meeting audiences in the right medium and language, Cabrices said. That means adding engagement via other avenues like social media, if the firm isn’t doing that already.
“I would even argue some ads could be produced in Spanish. We know that viewership tends to be higher among Hispanic and Latino populations.”