I was 52 and could have retired at 55 with golden handcuffs. But I didn't think retirement was anything I wanted soon--and I still don't.
The Firm: Hudock Moyer Financial Advisors,
Williamsport, Pa.
Principal: Barbara Hudock and Jason Moyer
B/D Affiliation: Wachovia
Year of Independence: 2001
Assets Under Management: $220 million

After 26 years at Merrill Lynch, Barbara Hudock didn't like the changes she saw at the wirehouse. Last November, Hudock, and a colleague, Jason Moyer, started their own firm and brought four other team members with them from Merrill.

Barbara: By the time we were ready to leave Merrill Lynch, we had $220 million under management. I was the broker and Jason was on my team. Our production was $1.9 million and our payout was 39 percent. So why would we leave the good livings we were making? What impelled us to leave? I would say the No. 1 reason was a change in the culture of the company. As I said, I was with Merrill Lynch for 26 years and for many of those years it was, in my view, the best company in the world. But over the past five or six years, there was a gradual change in management and the way they saw things. At one time the most important part was taking care of clients and employees. That changed, didn't it, Jason?

Jason: Yes. It was acceptable if you were offering 10 great services to clients under the old management style, and two of them were actually losing the company money, but they kept the clients happy and kept them willing to stay there and was bringing more assets in. Under the new regime, anything that didn't turn a profit was cut. And they started cutting support staff, too--and they were the people who were best at their jobs. There was more, too, wasn't there, Barbara?

Barbara: More and more we had to pay our own expenses. Our frustrations grew and grew and so we started interviewing independent broker/dealers in 2000. We interviewed wirehouses, too, and some of them offered me big checks to come with them. But our last years at Merrill convinced me we didn't want to join another wirehouse.

The market had started to decline so we had a lot of conflicting feelings about going independent. Also, I was 52 and could have retired at 55 with my golden handcuffs from Merrill Lynch. But I didn't think retirement was anything I wanted soon--and I still don't. I would really like to stay in this business for 10 or 15 more years because I really enjoy what we're doing.So last Nov. 30, we bit the bullet and did it.

We rolled the dice because we didn't do any in-depth projections and plans about going independent. We estimated our expenses would be 33 percent to 35 percent of what our income would be. But how could we know what our income would be when we didn't know which of our clients would be coming with us? It was a major leap of faith.

My entire team--Jason, me and four others--took the gamble. I guess they had the same faith in me I have in myself.

The $220 million we had under management at Merrill came from 440 clients, including multiple clients from some families. We got on the phone to them in less than an hour after we announced we were leaving. We immediately sent e-mails to our clients who had e-mail as soon as our new broker/dealer cleared us and our licenses had been transferred. We FedEx'd packages, literature we had created nights and weekends, and by the end of the first weekend, everybody had been contacted in one form or another.

In short order, 97 of the top 100 client relationships we had came with us. I can't begin to tell you how gratifying that was.

Our wish list projected that we'd like to keep 80 percent of what we had at Merrill.

We underestimated. It's less than a year since we went independent and we have more than 90 percent of our client list as our new clients. Not to mention new business.