The happiness of the independent advisor appears to be slightly overrated.

By a slight but significant margin, advisors in RIAs aren’t as happy with their careers as those in wirehouses, according to a new survey of 68 wirehouse advisors and 184 RIAs conducted by Boston-based consulting firm Aité Group.

Overall, the majority of planners in both camps reported similar levels of satisfaction with their professions, according to survey author and Aité research analyst Bill Butterfield. But of the minority in each camp that said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with their professions, more were RIAs.

In all, the survey found that 27% percent  of  RIA-affiliated   advisors  at  a  large  practice  are  "dissatisfied"  or "very  dissatisfied"  with  their  career,  compared   with  13%  of  their  peers in wirehouse channels.


“Wow. That is a surprising statistic,” Eric Bruck, principal of Silver Oak Wealth Advisors in Los Angeles, said upon learning of the survey.

Bruck and other advisors speculated that the rigors of running a business could lead to disenchantment for some RIAs. For those who hadn’t accurately bargained on the price of independence, Bruck says, “it could be a rude surprise.”

That’s precisely what Butterfield thinks is behind the numbers.

“The higher rate of career dissatisfaction among RIA-affiliated advisors is likely due to a couple of factors,” he said. “On one hand, there are requirements in running any business such as managing employees, managing the finances, overhead, etc. On the other hand there is the responsibility for compliance and technology. Advisors in the wirehouse channel are shielded from many of these responsibilities.”


That sounds about right to Jeffrey Thomasson, founder of the country’s largest RIA: based Oxford Financial Group, in Carmel, Ind. While running his fast-growing firm, Thomasson says, “Sometimes it can [seem] like the carnival where the guy is spinning several plates at once, with a regulator watching to see which plate is going to crash first."

Seth Streeter, cofounder of Mission Wealth Management in Santa Barbara, Calif., said he suspects that dissatisfaction may be more common among newer RIAs who have yet to adapt to the rigors of independence.

“My sense is that many wirehouse brokers see the allure of becoming independent: the higher payouts and increased autonomy to build their book as they see fit,” Streeter says. “But, post-transition, they soon find out that they have less time to focus on developing their client book, because of time demands to develop their business, hire and manage staff, staying up to speed with ever-changing compliance requirements, maintaining infrastructure and technology systems in the office, managing vendor relationships. The list goes on.”


After achieving a certain amount of mastery of this complex array of responsibilities, several planners say, things get better.

“To me it is more gratifying as I know that [working as an RIA] is the right thing to do for the client,” says Sanjeev Sardana, CEO of BluePointe Capital Management in San Mateo, Calif. “Every profession has its own issues and having been on both sides -- working for a brokerage firm as well as having my own firm -- I do tend to enjoy the fact that I am not under pressure to sell and [can] invest money as I see fit.”

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