Advisor Dress Codes: A Brave New World
By Marcus DiNitto
Dress codes are being relaxed all over Corporate America. Many people who work in offices are dressing more casually today than they did five or ten years ago.
For men, while ties haven’t gone the way of the dinosaur just yet, they’re often kept hanging in closets in favor of open collars and a less buttoned-up look. Women are finding more creative options than the traditional pantsuit.
But how has this overall trend translated to financial services, a traditionally formal and buttoned-up industry?
It used to be easy. “Always wear a suit.” advised Jim Brinkley the former President of well thought of Regional Legg Mason. His reasoning went thusly: every profession has a uniform. A Financial Advisor’s uniform is a coat and necktie. We should look, act, and be a consummate professional with respect for our clients and profession.. Simple right?
Today, it’s not so easy. While you won’t typically find financial advisors rolling into work wearing a T-shirt and jeans, like you may at a tech company or ad agency, there’s been an easing of dress codes in our industry as well.
The clearest indication of the changing culture in the finance industry came just over a year ago, when banking giant J.P. Morgan Chase announced most employees could ditch their suits and come to work in business-casual attire.
“Casual pants, capris, dress and skirts of appropriate length for the workplace,” and “business appropriate casual shirts, polo shirts, sweaters, tops and blouses” are allowed under the new dress code, according to a memo sent by J.P. Morgan to its employees.
Corporate culture filters from the top, and James Dimon’s no-tie look is more casual than most financial CEOs. After a visit to Silicon Valley, Dimon decided it was time to change the work environment at his bank to match those of more progressive industries, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Caveats, of course, came attached. “Business casual is not weekend casual,” the memo stressed, and “if you’re seeing a client you should dress for that client.” The latter clause applied to investment bankers, who are still required to wear suits.
Don’t look for the trend to ease anytime soon, as more millennials flood into the work force, and thus into the financial services industry. Pressure is on corporate cultures everywhere to adjust to the preferences of the younger generation.
The change at J.P. Morgan notwithstanding, bigger firms tend to adhere to stricter dress codes than do independent shops.
One advisor at an independent firm we spoke to doesn’t know exactly what the dress code is at his shop in Michigan, but it doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“I haven’t bothered to read one, but our staff is somewhere north of business casual to business professional and the brokers here, we all wear suits,” he said.
Geography is a factor in how dress codes are written, too. An RIA in southern California may dress differently than one in the chilly northeast or Midwest.
For David Lustig, who works at Wealth Management Solutions in San Diego, his style of dress depends not only on the area’s pleasant climate but also on his day’s agenda.
Lustig said while there isn’t a specific office dress code but, he has a personal minimum dress code: “Slacks and button down shirt. When I’m meeting with clients or I’m in the public as a professional, it’s coat and tie.”
The “polo shirt” mention in the J.P. Morgan memo rings familiar with financial advisors who like to meet clients and conduct business on the links, or at least pretend that they have an afternoon golf outing with clients.
A Merrill Lynch advisor we spoke to for this article said golf shirts are one way he and his colleagues test the limits of the dress code at his office in North Carolina.
“People push it sometimes,” he said, “You’ll see some people wearing a golf shirt, maybe they’re going to play in a golf event.” Maybe not. Either way they can get a casual day out of it.
J.P. Morgan’s revised dress code, pretend and real golf outings, and Lustig’s personal dress code sort of sum up where the industry is at as a whole – advisors should dress appropriately, and “appropriate” has many meanings.