Registered investment advisory firms need more capacity to handle client demand for professional financial planning advice.

That aligns with the recent trend of wirehouse brokers getting fed up with that channel and considering doing business in the independent channel instead.

Before independent advisors take on some of these professionals as a way to expand their practices, however, they ought to do their homework about the best ways to hire, integrate and compensate them, Jersey City, N.J.-based Pershing Advisor Solutions said in a report released Monday.

Pershing, a division of Bank of New York Mellon Corp. [BK], partnered with FA Insight, a Tacoma, Wash.-based research firm to do the study, based on interviews with advisors and recruiters late last year.

One of the most important questions that principals of independent advisory firms should ask themselves is why they would hire a breakaway broker, said Kim Dellarocca, a marketing and practice management director in Pershing’s global marketing group. When screening candidates, principals should know whether they are adding capacity to handle an influx of clients, for instance, or if the potential recruit has a technical expertise that the firm needs.

About 28% of advisory firms said in 2009 that they intended to hire a new staff member, particularly advice professionals and technical specialists, in areas like taxes or law. Overall, the number of industry-wide professional positions increased more than 7% between 2008 and 2009. Unlike many other companies, which reduced staff in recent years to cut costs, the new hires are not making up for layoffs. Indeed, during the downturn RIA principals tightened their belts and cut their own salaries, in an effort to maintain enough staff to service new clients once the economy recovered, Dellarocca said.

Many advisory firms are attracting new clients. The firms surveyed said they expected 5.3% growth in clients for 2009. Although that is slightly below the 5.6% they saw in 2008, Pershing said that that level is still respectable.

“If anything, the crisis was very good for advisors’ businesses,” she said. “Investors don’t want to do this alone. They are really looking for guidance. The demand for advice is the highest it has ever been.”

Sometimes a candidate has the makings of management and could potentially be part of the firm’s succession plan. If that is the case, Dellarocca said, principals should make sure the potential hire can manage and grow talent, and have stepped away from day-to-day client relationships. “But if you’re looking just for bandwidth to service the client relationships, the last thing you want is someone who wants a seat on the executive committee,” Dellarocca said.

Fortunately, the wirehouse channel has a rich deposit of potential candidates for independent advisory firms—the branch managers, Pershing said. Because of the nature of their jobs, those professionals can set strategies, communicate initiatives and develop businesses. Dellarocca adds that recruiting for the local branch is part of their jobs. “They have a great Rolodex, which makes them a nice hire for someone looking to grow by that,” Dellarocca said.

True enough, firms like Chicago-based HighTower Group, which grow by making key advisor hires, are the ones that are doing this more than traditional independent advisory firms. That doesn’t mean RIA firms are out of the running for talented branch managers, however. In situations where they can offer attractive compensation packages, Dellarocca says, RIA firms are beginning to tap that pool of talent.

RIA principals should also consider that at the end of 2008, there were almost 310,000 financial advisors in the industry, and just 6% were in the RIA channel. That means the other channels, independent broker-dealer (31.9%), regional broker-dealer (11.6%), dually registered (4.8%), insurance broker-dealer (22.7%), bank broker-dealer (5.3%) and wirehouse (17.7%), can be significant sources of new hires.

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