When was the last time you re-evaluated how well your broker-dealer or current affiliation met the needs of your practice? Throughout my career, I've seen far too many advisors suffer from inertia and stay with their affiliations because they think changing will be too much of a hassle.
Taking the time to do the necessary due diligence, you may find there are better affiliations to support the growth of your business -- as well as resources and capital available to facilitate a move.
Once you decide it makes sense to look elsewhere, there are five steps critical to making a smooth transition.
1. KNOW YOUR VALUE (& YOUR PRIORITIES)
No one understands your practice better than you. The right affiliation should appreciate the unique value you bring to the marketplace and help distinguish your practice from the pack.
Do you cater to a particular niche? Finding a firm to best connect you to that niche -- whether teachers, successful business owners or health care professionals -- is essential to maintaining and building your book of business.
Advisors should also consider why they are looking to transition away from a current firm. There's a reason you're leaving; make sure your new affiliation is not lacking in the same area.
I'm constantly surprised to see how many advisors end up with the same problem they hoped to get away from by moving. That makes the next step crucial.
2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
I always encourage advisors to look at a minimum of five firms. While many start the search by connecting with firms based on referrals from colleagues or something they read in an industry publication, your research shouldn't stop there.
Do your own independent research to find a handful of firms with a mission and support level that matches the criteria you are looking for. You may find that a firm or business model you hadn't originally considered looks intriguing and is worth further investigation.
There's also no harm in reaching out to advisors already working for your list of prospective firms. Find out what they like or dislike about the affiliation. You'll be surprised to find how much weight their thoughts and opinions carry.
3. GET INTO DETAILS
When comparing firms, look beyond payouts and expenses, transition packages and upfront money. While compensation is important, it's equally important to affiliate with a firm investing in areas designed to help you grow your business and serve your clients. Pay particular attention in these five areas:
- Technology: From email to databases to operations, the technology you use on daily basis should be simple and seamless. Your firm should offer an integrated technology platform that is highly efficient and responsive to your needs. Look at processes that can be time-consuming -- such as account opening and management, document imaging, transaction execution and account rebalancing -- and make sure these are automated to improve efficiency and accuracy and let you focus on growing your business.
- Compliance: In this ever-evolving regulatory environment, keeping on top of the diverse, complex compliance requirements is a challenge. The right firm will be able to provide an understanding of various regulations and how to work within them to achieve your goals -- both for your clients and for your practice. Integrating compliance functionality into your practice and enabling many compliance procedures to be fully automated allows you to focus on serving current clients and prospecting for new, rather than on logistics.
- Marketing: Your marketing should help grow your business with good prospecting practices and your firm should be able to provide a full range of expert communications. From personalized, branded brochures to letters and seminar invitations, along with other marketing collateral, you should have the tools at your fingertips to make your practice stand out from the rest of the pack.
- Customer service: It is vital that your firm to have enough staff in place to immediately answer any questions and provide the back-office service and support you need. From assistance with technology to answering questions on products, an accessible, knowledgeable customer service team should make every process simple so you can focus your time and energy on clients.
- Succession planning: As a financial advisor, you should have a succession plan in place for your practice. Your firm should be there for you when the time comes to leave your practice in the hands of someone else. In addition, the right firm will help you create strategic alliances to build your business and gain access to new clients with a developed networking alliance of associated professionals. These steps are critical for your future and the future of your business.
With data from at least five firms you will get a much clearer picture of the industry landscape and where to direct your search.
4. PICK 2 FINALISTS
After gathering enough data to make constructive comparisons, two firms should stand out to you above the rest. These two firms will require a visit and even further research. With your detailed competitive analysis in mind, these meetings will be more productive and informative. Use the time to learn more about the firm's culture and value proposition.
Now is also the time to ask specific questions that pertain to your business and future goals. Remember those five areas in which you conducted your research? Dig deeper into a firm's claims by asking detailed questions: "Where are you making your money?" "How have you invested in helping advisors go paperless to improve efficiency?" "What are your compliance service standards in terms of turnaround time?" "Can I own my own brand if I want to?"
All of these factors will play an important role in making your final decision -- and the answers will vary.
5. GET SERIOUS ABOUT NEGOTIATING
You've done your research and you know what you're looking for. Now is the time to be impressed. As you move into deeper discussions with the final two, it may become clear that one is willing, and able, to provide something the other cannot.
Be confident: A firm that's the right fit will recognize the value you bring to the table and be willing to come up with a mutually satisfying agreement.
Deciding to make a move to a different firm can be a complex and confusing process -- yet most advisors will have to face it at one point or another. Dedicating enough time and conducting the proper amount of due diligence is the best way to ensure where you're going is a better fit than where you've been.
There are a myriad of opportunities out there. With the right amount of soul searching, research and honest negotiating, you will find the ideal partner with whom to align your practice.
Tom Daley is founder and CEO of The Advisor Center.