Whoever buys HighTower Advisors, the closely watched RIA juggernaut widely regarded by industry insiders to be for sale, had better be prepared to pay up to encourage the firms' nearly 200 advisors to stick around.

"A HighTower buyer faces a huge flight risk," says Tim Welsh, president of consulting firm Nexus Strategy. "Many of the advisors can leave at any time. They own the clients, not HighTower. Even having some equity may not be a reason to stay because we've seen advisors who had equity in the firm already leave."

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