Monday June 4, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A St. Louis-based financial services firm with three offices in the Berkshires in planning to expand significantly throughout the county over the next eight years.

As part of a national expansion plan, Edward Jones plans to add as many as 60 to 70 new offices in Massachusetts west of Interstate 91 by 2020 -- including at least 10 in the Berkshires, according to local and national company representatives.

Edwards Jones currently operates offices in Adams, North Adams and Pittsfield.

"I would say this area could certainly handle 10 offices," said Edward Jones representative Rick Schacner, who is responsible for the company’s total acquisitions in the Eastern United States.

"When we get to 10 we’ll look and see if the market can support more," he said.

Founded in 1922, Edward Jones didn’t open its first branch office until 1957, but currently has more than 12,000 financial advisers stationed at more than 11,100 offices throughout the United States and Canada. The company has been expanding for quite awhile -- Edwards Jones had only 304 offices in 1980, and didn’t move into Canada until 1990, according to its website.

"Edward Jones grew inside out, from the Midwest to the coasts," Schacner said. "Most of the new offices will be on the East and West coasts."

He said Edward Jones considers New England to be prime expansion territory due to its large amount of population centers.

Jason LeBelle, the financial adviser for the Edward Jones office in Pittsfield, said the company believes that the Pittsfield area has enough "liquid investable assets" -- funds in bank accounts, 401Ks, IRAs, gold, silver, stocks and "the whole gamut of investment" -- to support a large local expansion.

"There’s a ton of room for growth," LeBelle said.

Berkshire County isn’t a huge area geographically or population-wise, but the Edward Jones’ business model would seem to discourage oversaturation. According to the company, each branch office includes one financial adviser and one branch office administrator who work one-on-one with their clients.

"We don’t want to get to the point where we each have 2,000 clients and can’t handle anymore," LeBelle said. "Edward Jones looks at 800 to 1,200 as a busy enough book for one person."

Representatives of other financial services firms are wary about Edward Jones’ significant expansion plans in the Berkshires.

"I’m not so sure the market is big enough," said Allen Harris, the president and chief portfolio officer of Berkshire Money Management in Pittsfield. "With emails and teleconferencing it’s easy to stay in touch with people. It doesn’t seem like this area would hold 10 offices."

Paul Fortini, branch manager of the Raymond James & Associates financial advisers branch office in Pittsfield, said that under his understanding of Edward Jones’ business model there could be enough room for 20 additional financial advisers in the county.

"There’s certainly a concentration in assets at the local bigger financial institutions," Fortini said. "Whether they can ply away those assets with a bigger offer or a different scenario is hard to say.

"Putting up a shingle doesn’t mean business just walks in the door."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6224
On Twitter: @tonydobrow