Plenty of advisors are yearning for more independence, but that can mean any number of options these days. Advisors may find their freedom at another firm, an existing RIA or an independent broker-dealer.
How do advisors identify the right path? FAs looking to leave a traditional wirehouse need to analyze their skill sets and goals. They need to ask themselves what kind of support or resources they need, what are their compensation needs and whether their current discontent stems from industry-wide problems or those specific to a firm or channel.
According to a survey by TD Ameritrade, 43% of brokers are disappointed with their current firm’s corporate culture, 42% with leadership and strategic direction and 33% with compensation. The top two reasons to go independent were more control over the business and higher compensation.
Staying in the same channel
Even within a channel, there are cultural differences among firms. For instance, firms that are mostly bank-owned versus those that are primarily wealth management-driven can have different levels of bureaucracy and top-down control.
Advisors may also find more independence at regional firms or independent broker-dealers.
Advisors at regional firms are still employees, so compliance, technology, and other aspects are covered by the firm. However, these smaller, regional firms have more of an advisor culture and are less bureaucratic. They also don’t change their compensation schemes as often.
"Many advisors look at a different culture as being a breath of fresh air," Diamond says, especially if they aren’t interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
Joining a broker-dealer
Depending on an advisor’s clientele, joining a regional firm may or may not be a good fit. An independent broker-dealer can allow advisors to build, maintain and brand an independent business but still have access to a platform with robust technology and solutions.
Moving to an RIA
Advisors can also choose to join an existing RIA. That’s what Larry Solomon, now a client advisor at Mercer Advisors in Washington, D.C., did when he left a smaller firm with $300 million in client assets because of concerns about a lack of succession plan.
"My greatest fear was that if I died, all that knowledge and skill would just go away and if that’s the case, then what have I accomplished?" he says. "I’m not building buildings or paintings or the Sistine Chapel. I’m managing people’s money … those are intangibles.”
As a director of financial planning and investing, Solomon wasn’t going to bring clients to a new firm, so starting an RIA was out of the question. He talked to a wirehouse but felt there would be conflicts of interest. As part of a large RIA, Solomon is pleased to be at a large firm with more resources and a spectrum of services, including tax attorneys, accountants and estate planning attorneys.
Teams of breakaway advisors also join RIAs. Different firms offer different partnership models, affecting compensation. Finding the right fit also depends on the advisor’s business goals and how well they’re aligned with the firm’s. A firm may not be able to accommodate an advisor with a unique investment style, for instance. Culture is another important, but more nebulous, factor in choosing a firm.
Chuck Failla, principal at Sovereign Financial Group, likens choosing a firm to choosing a college. "Some people are more small-college people and some are Michigan State-type of people who like really big firms. That’s really going to be different from person to person," he says.
While more and more advisors are breaking away to start their own firms, it’s not the only choice. For every advisor who breaks away to start their own firm, many more choose not to. According to data from Fidelity, about two-thirds of advisors who leave their firms stay in their current channel, while a third move to a different channel. To find the right fit, advisors need to focus on their own goals and aspirations and dig into the culture at other firms. Failla suggests, at a minimum, talking to the head of the firm, the head of compliance and the head of operations.
"Before you make a decision, make sure that you’re talking to a few people that are really within the inner sanctum of the firm and that those are the people that you really are going to feel comfortable working with," he says.