As graduation season nears, there is a fresh pool of talent that advisory firms can look to employ. But what happens to these people after their initial years of employment? Is being an adviser their only option? Based on my own experience and that of other Gen Y advisers, the answer is definitely not.
As many advisers with five to 10 years in the industry can attest, there is a learning curve that needs to be experienced. Learning the back-end systems of an RIA, understanding how client accounts are opened and managed, and experiencing the human side of planning should not be rushed.
But once the training is completed, many people reach a crossroads. The question arises: What’s next? For some advisers, managing client relationships for the next 30 years may not fulfill the grand dreams they had for their career. So what are the options?
REMAIN AN EMPLOYEE
I have met some advisers who acknowledge that their career cannot provide the fulfillment they’re looking for in life.
Many strive to find every minute they can to spend with family, to support causes and charities or to explore hobbies. For them, their job is just their job, and not a calling. It provides them income to enjoy life.
For early-career advisers, it’s important to understand what motivates your life, and not to seek out career advancement for its own sake. If your employment is solely for funding other areas of your life, embrace it. Accept that you place more emphasis on other matters. That’s perfectly all right.
PURSUE THE PARTNER TRACK
There seems to be an allure about being a partner of a firm. Being partner affords a level of status, and we are led to believe that a partner has professional and financial prowess.
But while it can have financial and professional advantages, being a partner is very different from being an employed planner. You are an owner as well as a planner. You’ll be managing client relationships while also managing partner responsibilities, including building maintenance, pricing models, employee issues and company vision. You will have to work with other partners to lead the business — through good and bad — and provide for each employee at the firm.
Being a partner can provide significant financial rewards compared with a salaried position, but partners are also obliged to put money back into the firm when the tides turn. Before seriously pursuing becoming a partner, view it as an arranged marriage with many spouses.
You’ll be contractually and financially obligated to this group for the foreseeable future. You may be surprised at how many advisers have turned down a partnership in order to avoid such issues.
WORK IN A SUPPORT ROLE
As an RIA gets larger, there comes a time when more advisers aren’t needed but an infrastructure is essential.
Advisers who have the skills and a waning desire to maintain client relationships can transition into COO, CCO or marketing-like roles.
Having gone through various training programs within a company, a planner can understand what the culture of the company is, how management operates and what the firm’s strengths and weaknesses are. Many advisers have marketing backgrounds or have completed an MBA, so they already have the academic skills to transition into ancillary positions.
START YOUR OWN FIRM
An obvious option — but clearly a risky one — is for advisers to leave a firm and start their own company.
This decision can come about for a variety of reasons: lack of unity in a current company, a desire to pursue a different fee structure, more flexibility for family issues or the strong pull of an entrepreneurial voice.
Whatever the reason, leaving a company to become the boss is a big decision. As in becoming a partner, you have to work with clients but you also have to deal with business situations.
It seems that whether a planner leaves with a book of clients or starts from scratch, the notion of not being beholden to anyone is more attractive than the stability of an established firm.
I am an RIA owner myself and soon I will be a partner because of a merger involving my practice. I am now acutely aware that being both a planner and an owner requires diligent time management and a vision of what lies ahead.
Before making this decision, it’s wise to get family buy-in and to understand what the worst-case scenario can look like and what will happen in that situation.
Choosing this option is not a journey for the faint-hearted, but the rewards — financial and otherwise — can definitely outweigh those of a salaried planner within a firm.
BECOME A CONSULTANT
If you look at consultants advising the financial services industry, many of their career highlights include being part of a broker-dealer or RIA. For a consultant to gain quick credibility with advisers, it pays to have experience on the same side of the table.
For younger advisers, the consultant route can be lucrative and enjoyable. With such niches as adviser technology, integrating younger advisers into an older firm or adapting an advisory firm to younger clients, there are many avenues that a consulting career can take.
Don’t think that because you have had a short career in the industry, you have nothing to give back. Your perspective is valuable and one that many RIA owners will pay for.
If you make a move into consulting, you don’t have to do it alone. There are many consulting firms looking for experienced advisers to join their ranks. Even software companies are in need of advisers who can bring valuable feedback.
LEAVE THE INDUSTRY
Obviously, there are advisers who are competent in planning but still choose to leave the industry. For younger advisers who are facing this possibility, it’s important to understand that your career will be a journey. You’ve explored a career that didn’t provide rewards that make you want to stay for a lifetime.
Armed with a psychology degree, I dreamed after college of becoming a human-resources consultant. I was hired by a consultancy and was fired six months later. Looking back, I needed that experience to understand what I didn’t like doing and to allow myself the freedom to find a career where my skills could be put to the best use.
If you are planning on leaving the industry to explore other careers, know that many others have been in your situation. I would implore you to make the jump and follow your heart’s desire.