Demand for expert financial advice is growing -- and this presents an opportunity for independent advisors.
According to Cerulli Associates, the percentage of affluent and nearly affluent households investing with financial advisors grew from 50 percent in 2008 to 84 percent in 2012, reflecting the challenges presented by increasingly complex financial markets as well as individuals' desire for more personalized and effective investing strategies. Cerulli relied on Phoenix Marketing's survey of affluent and near-affluent households with more than $50,000 in annual income or more than $250,000 in investable assets.
At the same time, many advisors have come to realize that setting up an independent practice can greatly enhance their ability to deliver truly customized, client-focused support while offering the gratification, flexibility and rewards of a more entrepreneurial business model.
Here are six pointers for newly independent advisors or those considering a switch to independent status and they apply to anyone in a client-facing business considering entrepreneurial life:
1. Prepare to be surprised: Independence opens many new doors to advisors, but an entrepreneurial model can be as arduous as it is exhilarating. Entrepreneurial advisors caution their peers to consider carefully what they are getting into -- and to expect some turbulence in the transition. Linda Postorivo of the Beringer Group reinforces that having an independent advisory “is more than a business. It’s a lifestyle, a commitment to the industry requiring a tremendous amount of intellectual capital.”
2. Know that your value proposition cannot lie solely in your independence: Independence is no longer the differentiator it once was. Advisors need to be thoughtful and deliberate in identifying and optimizing the distinctive advantage that their business can offer clients. An advisor’s best opportunities to create value will typically come from key activities driven by deep knowledge of what the client truly wants and needs, including asset-class selection and portfolio construction, investment and manager selection and ongoing monitoring and reporting.
3. Love what you do, but do what you love: For many successful entrepreneurs, an unwavering commitment to their vision and a passion for their work are critical components of their value proposition. At the same time, highly successful independents rigorously focus on doing what they do best rather than becoming insular or becoming sidetracked by the minutia of business ownership.
Bill Schiffman of Schiffman Grow & Co. maintains that one of the biggest mistakes made by young entrepreneurs is to try to be "chief cook and bottle washer.” Instead, Schiffman advises, “Entrepreneurs need to recognize their unique ability and try to spend as much time on that as possible.”
4. Don’t underestimate your need for support systems: Many advisors leave the “nest” of a large firm not understanding the capabilities built into their old structures and this is potentially a major stumbling block to the growth of their new practice. Putting proper support systems in place empowers advisors to focus on the big picture rather than becoming bogged down in the details.
5. Invest in technology: Research shows that technology is an important contributor to advisors’ success: Research by the Aite Group found that advisors who rely on a fully integrated platform spend 40 percent less time solving back office and technology problems, devote 90 percent more time to be with clients, and experience 110 percent higher growth in their practices. A fully integrated platform deeply unifies portfolio management, modeling, rebalancing, trading, billing, and reporting with a client portal and client relationship management system. Cynthia Hinds of Hinds Financial says that having an integrated end-to-end technology solution has enabled her business to become “a boutique firm with all of the infrastructure of a major wire house, but none of the downside.”
6. Know what you don’t know: In the transition to independent status, many advisors fail to anticipate the level of training, support tools and technological structures they will need. New entrepreneurs are well advised to consider tapping an outside partner to help address gaps in their knowledge or capabilities.
To Jim Pratt-Heaney of LLBH Private Wealth Management, entrepreneurship's greatest challenge has been learning how to capture the breadth of opportunities in today’s marketplace: “My biggest concern over time has been, What am I missing?” A partner who is able to stay ahead of the curve and provide cutting-edge insight into a business is an invaluable asset to an emergent independent practice.
When the fit is right, advisors who go independent can reap the rewards of greater decision-making power, stronger service capabilities, enhanced client loyalty and an even more satisfying professional life. By arming themselves with clear vision, proper preparation, superior tools and technology and well-chosen partners, budding entrepreneurs will maximize their chances for success.