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Do You and Your Firm Still Belong Together?

June 11, 2015

So many advisors find themselves at a tipping point when they question whether their current firm is still the right “fit” for their careers, clients and lives. This self-reflection can be a daunting exercise — often spurred by an excess of frustration over inefficient processes, cultural changes within the organization, or even concern over their own legacy. It can leave even the most successful advisors overwhelmed, their heads spinning in search of the answer. But truth be told, the bigger problem is that most haven’t even considered the proper questions to ask themselves, leaving them with no real benchmark by which to assess the decision-making process.

Indeed, when advisors contemplate their future job status, the exercise will bring up many variables. But while complicated, such reviews are crucial to aligning the advisor’s strategic vision with the opportunities that lie ahead.

With these provoking questions in hand, and a clear vision of their most pressing goals, advisors can start pursuing meaningful evaluations.

1. What’s frustrating you?

Some advisors cite bureaucracy or changes within their current organization in their response to this question, or they may be feeling there’s a lack of support or efficiency. One advisor recently told me how his firm was “no longer the same one he joined.” Culturally, things had gone from entrepreneurial and friendly to big, bureaucratic and inefficient. Senior leadership had become inaccessible, unreliable and untrustworthy. Although over the years there were always things that irritated him, more recently the sum total made him question whether he was in the right place to manage and grow his business effectively.

It’s important to confront these frustrations head-on and identify how they tangibly impact one’s ability to “get it done” on a client’s behalf. And ultimately, one must consider the impact of these grievances and the effects they have on providing client service, connecting with prospects and securing strong investment results.

2. Are you looking for the “bells and whistles” of a big name or the more flexible, personal feel of a smaller firm?

Some advisors prefer a big firm — a plug-and-play environment with all of the support in place. However, others want to get out from under the bureaucracy and into a “boutique” setting that may be more flexible, entrepreneurial and collaborative. For example, an advisor at a larger firm may be spending more time managing compliance and paperwork and less time with client needs — on top of charging firm-mandated fees. On the other hand, a boutique firm may not have the big budget for advanced platforms or the staff to provide proper support. Eventually, advisors must decide whether their firm’s existing “features” are in line with their vision on how best to support clients.

3. Is the technology intuitive and able to advance your clients’ goals?

Although some advisors will view technology as a commodity, it is a true underpinning of their work. So many advisors have shared stories of how they “got around” the firm’s tools in order to best service their clients. Indeed, some advisors have resorted to creating their own Excel spreadsheets because they were “better” than the firm’s platform.

Overall, advisors must understand the firm’s long-term commitment to their investment platform — including how they plan to integrate it with leading CRM providers such as Salesforce or performance-data providers like Morningstar.

4. Where do you see yourself — personally and professionally — five-to-10 years out?

Advisors should regularly visualize the best scenario for their practice over five- to 10-year time horizons. You may be nearing retirement, so identifying potential successors is crucial. Maybe you’re someone seeking to grow a practice exponentially over the next decade. Will your current firm allow you to achieve those goals?

The reality is that, after evaluating your options, you may find that staying put is the right answer. That’s absolutely fine, and you can approach business with a clear understanding and renewed energy. Always recognize that there will be no perfection; and, in the end, routinely evaluating a firm’s usefulness is always a healthy task.