A lot of advisors have been going independent lately. Whether you are moving to start your own RIA or want to join a large independent broker-dealer network, there are a lot of intricacies involved with running your own shop. Before you even think about the logistics of moving, it is important to assess whether you have the skills to succeed. There are essentially three skills that one needs to become a successful independent advisor: operational experience, in-depth relationship management skills, and sales/business development acumen. Operationally, you will likely have a tight budget when first breaking away, so understanding the nuts and bolts of the business, like migrating client accounts, is critical. Secondly, you will need to be able to concisely define the nature and scope of your relationship with clients in order to keep them happy for the long-term. Finally, you will need to be able to convince people why they should manage your money (without the weight of a wirehouse brand behind you!).
FINSUM: As a companion to the above, Michael Kitces notes that most successful independent advisors had seven years experience before going it alone.
The lone wolf financial advisor is steadily becoming a rarity in the wealth management industry (Edward Jones advisors aside!). For instance, 77% of Merrill Lynch advisors now report that they work in teams, up from 48% in 2013. Whether you work solo or in a team, one thing many might not know is that FA teams tend to grow their AUM and client base much faster than solo advisors. The advantage seems to be derived from two key aspects. The first is that a team has a wider variety of skill sets to help deliver comprehensive services to clients. The other is that having a team in place makes clients worry less about the impact of losing a single advisor via illness, death, or leaving the firm.
FINSUM: The team approach seems to be working across the industry, with clients liking the change. That said, forming teams comes with its own set of significant risks and considerations.
“Cross-selling” has been the name of the game at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for years, but Merrill is about to take the idea to new heights. Partnering with BofA, the Thundering Herd is now offering mortgage discounts of up to half a percentage point to clients if they bring more of their business to the brokerage or the bank. According to Barron’s “Merrill is testing the rate reductions in California, Oregon, Washington, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida. The 50-basis-point reduction is available to clients with $500,000 in deposits or investments to qualify for the half a percent mortgage reduction.”
FINSUM: This could be a considerable competitive advantage for luring clients away from other brokerages. We expect Wells Fargo will follow suit, but it will be harder for Morgan Stanley and UBS to do so.
The big question mark for advisors is whether they will need to keep cutting their fees in an effort to make themselves competitive with robo advisors. Bolstering additional services is another way to defend fees, but getting credit for these is difficult. Therefore, advisors might want to adopt an approach Ron Carson, from the Carson Group, uses. That method is to send clients not only an investment performance report, but also a “relationship timeline”, which shows all the services you have provided them, such “as the sale of a business or the analysis of expected Social Security benefits”, but could also including helping find mortgages, assisting with travel etc.
FINSUM: People are always very price-oriented and it becomes very easy for clients to forget just how much an advisor does. This seems like a good way to highlight it.
Advisors all over the country got a lot of worried phone calls yesterday. Clients are understandably anxious about the mammoth losses over the last week, all punctuated by an almost 5% fall in the Dow yesterday. One advisor from LA says that “We’re reminding them that we knew this was going to happen and that we’ve been planning for it”. Other advisors are reminding their clients that the economy looks strong and that we are not headed into a recession. One Wells Fargo advisor makes a note that looks negative for stocks, saying “A 10-year Treasury yield above 3% would be reasonable competition for equities, and I would be able to replace fixed income maturities with higher yields for the first time in a decade”.
FINSUM: We think this a healthy correction, but that the market will likely continue to move higher. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the economy, and once the market realizes that higher rates won’t kill stocks, things will get back to normal. However, this maelstrom is a very healthy recognition of risk.