Benjamin Franklin once said: “He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money.” Sure, when you decide to switch firms, you may well want to pay attention to the dollar signs. But there are a lot of other enticements that firms can offer — and that you might want to consider carefully — when you are selecting a new place of employment.
TAKE HOME ECONOMY: Most of the wirehouses have structured their comp grids where the advisor, depending upon his level of production, is taking home somewhere between 37 percent and 45 percent (up to 55 percent when deferred comp is taken into account.) Smaller broker/dealers and regional firms tend to offer higher cash payouts (usually closer to the 50 percent mark), but their wealth accumulation plans are not usually as attractive.
PRODUCT AND PLATFORM: Today there is very little difference between the products, platforms and services offered by the firms on the street, most of which have full open architecture. But the people who manage the back-office functions of a firm and support its different product areas are critical to both your success and the firm's. Meeting these people is a great way of assessing how easy it will be to get your needs met.
BRAND: It used to be that Goldman Sachs, UBS, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch were de facto the best brands on Wall Street — but times have changed. These days, it's harder to know where to look for security and stability. Many still believe that the reputation of the wirehouse will bounce back and would rather wait this ride out. Others feel that they would be better off going independent and creating their own brands. Others are comfortable staying where they are.
MANAGEMENT: Many firms have taken great steps to reduce layers of management and create more horizontal leadership structure. Others have always had a leaner management structure and a more entrepreneurial approach to the industry. This is something to consider. At smaller firms with less bureaucracy, compliance may be easier to manage, and “out-of-the-box” requests related to marketing, travel and entertainment and sales strategy are often more quickly approved.
CLIENT FOCUS: In the current environment, with revenues under pressure at many firms, it is worth finding out exactly how much autonomy you will have to do what is in the best interests of your clients — especially when it comes to products and fees. Even at firms professing to offer open architecture, some advisors tell us that they feel pressure to sell certain products.
EQUITY: What kind of ownership do you have in your own success and the success of your firm? Many firms offer stock, partial ownership through an ESOP, or another financial incentive tied to individual and firmwide profitability. Some boutique RIA firms offer cash plus equity of around 70 percent and 150 percent of trailing 12-months' production.
SUCCESSION PLANNING: This is an area in which some firms fall short, even as a large portion of the advisor population hits retirement age. Many firms offer advisors the ability to transition their business to a junior advisor or team partner. Others offer a concrete buyout plan. Most national firms have structured “franchise protection plans,” whereby a retiring advisor can participate in the revenue generated from his business for several years after retirement.
EGO GRATIFICATION: How does the advisor feel about his place within the firm? This intangible is often a real differentiating factor. How does a firm treat its advisors? Does it value advisors producing $200,000 annually as much as those generating $500,000 per year? Are all brokers given access to the chief investment officer, top management or other firm representatives? Even multimillion dollar producers may complain that they don't feel they get the respect they want at the biggest firms. Some are happier being a big fish in a smaller pond. How important is this to you?
There should be more to an advisor's decision to move to a new firm than money. While dollars enter into the equation, there are other considerations that may have an even greater impact on the success of your business and your quality of life.
Mindy Diamond founded Chester, N.J.-based Diamond Consultants, which specializes in retail brokerage and banking recruiting. www.diamondrecruiter.com