Ever wonder what makes successful advisors successful? 

Independence and technology are the leading factors, according to four advisors at TD Ameritrade Institutional’s Elite Summit, but some of the other factors were even more surprising.

In a roundtable meeting Wednesday, Arthur Doglione, a senior managing director at Alpha Fiduciary, Mark Delfino, a managing director at HoyleCohen, Ron Butt, a senior partner at ARGI Financial Group, and Gordon Bernhardt, president of Bernhardt Wealth Management, were not shy to share their opinions on the competitive advantages the RIA model delivers over the wirehouses, and in some cases their former colleagues.

Gordon said as an RIA it is nice to not have a conflict of interest.  Butt agreed, noting he did not feel comfortable being forced to use proprietary products in his past. 

Doglione called his previous job as a wirehouse “toxic,” but explained how wirehouse advisors can get caught up in compensation and not realize what is the right thing to do. 

He said he left a lot of compensation on the table when he left, but in talking about the wirehouse model, he said, “You can’t run a business against the people you are trying to help and expect it to last forever.”

Butt said that his firm has grown eight times its size since 2003.  He said that type of growthis proof that a large corporation can really hold back an individual trying to do the right thing.

Bernhardt agreed, stating he grew faster after getting rid of his commission-based licenses.

Doglione said that most advisors fall short because when “they are working in the business, they don’t ever work on the business.”

Delfino, a former management consultant, said it is important to manage to a growth plan.  He said that he sees most advisors as passionate about being professionals, but they fall short when it comes to being passionate about being business managers. 

“It is not just about the service model,” he said, pointing out that the operational model needs to be a focus.

One of the big mistakes that advisors face as they grow is that they hire a “mini-me, Delfino said. “Instead they need complimentary skills to get over the chasm,” he said.

Bernhardt said that he believed that younger advisors should have a mentor or a coach to help them move to the next level.

“I hire better people that are better than me so I can become irrelevant and ease out of things,” he said.

Doglione said: “A person in our industry has to recognize there is an environment that is constantly changing.”

Delfino said he over-invested in his firm’s infrastructure at a time when the market was not great, but he has seen tremendous results because of it.  To be operationally efficient, his firm has looked for tuck-ins to help beyond organic growth, because every advisor reaches a point where they cannot take on more relationships.

When it comes to technology, the roundtable agreed it is important to be able to scale a practice, although they seemed to do it all in different ways.  It was clear that a strong CRM system is a must, as all employees need to be able to know what is going on with different clients. 

Butt said of the service his firm delivers in offices across the country, “We don’t want our clients to get a different experience, so it is all workflow based.”  Once all associates are doing the same thing, he added, “Then you can train to it, have career paths and a succession plan.”

Delfino said technological integration is well worth the time and money.

As a whole the industry is making some things easier.  “I have more and better technology on my desk today (compared to years ago),” Doglione said.

Looking back at what made Bernhardt a success, he said, “It is good to establish minimums as early as possible, with asset levels and fees.  That will eliminate problems down the road.”

Butt had a slightly different reason for his success and it was around having a focus.  He said it is critical for advisors to find their niche. “Focus on one thing, then you can be an expert at,” he said. “Don’t be a shot gun, be a rifle.”

Mike Byrnes is the founder of Byrnes Consulting. Read more at www.byrnesconsulting.com.