Whatever amount of money you think you're going to need, plan on having twice that amount.
Joe Lowry
The Firm: The Lowry Group,
Gainesville, Fla.
Principal: Joe Lowry
B/D Affiliation: Investacorp
Year of Independence: 1994
Assets Under Management: $60 million

I've been in the financial services business 28 years. I started in the life insurance business with New York Life in 1974. In 1978 I left New York Life to become an independent insurance agent. In 1980 I got my securities license and was a full service independent rep, insurance and brokerage, until 1989 when I went with Merrill Lynch. In 1994 I left Merrill Lynch to go independent again.

Here's what got me to go to Merrill Lynch and here's what got me to leave Merrill Lynch. Not only did I move to Merrill Lynch in 1989, but I also moved my family from Miami to Gainesville, Fla. In fact, we didn't move to Gainesville to go with Merrill Lynch. We moved because my wife and I wanted to raise our kids in a more traditional area. We moved because that's where we wanted to live. And it so happened that while I was looking to reestablish my business in Gainesville, Merrill offered to buy my book. It was a very attractive offer and I decided to accept it.

Interestingly, while Merrill Lynch bought my book, they didn't require me to turn it over to them. That made going independent again rather easy.

That wasn't the only reason I left to go independent again, however. The thing that appealed to me about the Merrill office in Gainesville that did not appeal to me about wirehouse offices in larger cities like Miami was that this was a small-town office with a very casual atmosphere and I felt it would allow me to operate a client-centered practice.

Unfortunately, it didn't turn out that way. I think Merrill, coming into the early '90s, wanted to standardize all of its office operations, introduce other products and services such as corporate credit lines, mortgage financing, trust services. The reps' ability to earn Club status and bonuses was tied to our participation in these programs.

Since my business is investments, and I felt that trying to meet all of their other expectations was getting in the way of my really doing what I got into the business to do in the first place, and that was to handle people's investment.

So I left and took 90 percent of the assets and 96 percent of my clients. They came with me. It was simply a matter of going a block away and hiring an assistant and hanging out my shingle again.

When I came to Merrill, it was probably with $12 million or $13 million under management. When I left, it was about $35 million or $36 million, 75 percent of the revenue from securities and 25 percent from insurance.

Today, I have three brokers who clear through me in this office. My broker/dealer is Investacorp and it all gets cleared through them. I also have an affiliate office in Melbourne, Fla., under the name of Eastwood, Lowry.

All my producers are free to sell the financial products their clients want. We do stocks, bonds, mutual funds, variable annuities. I would say individual stocks and bonds probably account for roughly 40 to 45 percent of our sales, mutual funds another 40 to 45 percent and then variable products maybe 10 to 15 percent.

Our average account is probably $200,000 to $250,000. Our average client is over 40 and is either a professional or a business owner--or retired.

I think of my practice as client-driven. You come into our office, we meet, I endeavor to find out what your concerns are, your risk tolerance, temperament, your objectives. We would try to ascertain the life expectancy of your capital and apply your risk analysis and develop an allocation that's consistent with your portfolio's life expectancy.

It's pretty straightforward. I don't complicate things. We don't do any exotic investing--no commodities, no options. We don't engage in any short-term trades or any day-trading activities at all.

Our office is 1,900 square feet, we have between 350 and 400 clients, and today I personally have $60 million under management.

Even though our clients' portfolios are down about 20 to 25 percent since 2001, they don't seem to blame us for the economy's problems. I know that because most of my new business comes from their referrals. And, oh yes, maybe once every three to four years I'll put a 1-inch ad in the newspapers. Just my name, really.

Leaving a wirehouse is a smart thing to do, but only if you have an unwavering faith in the U.S. economy and pretty good faith in yourself. If you lack those two elements of faith, you're better off staying put or probably changing vocations. The other thing I would say is that when you do your cost projections, whatever amount of money you think you're going to need, plan on having twice that amount.