The good news is you don’t “have to”—independence can be as “independent” as you want it to be.
“I would love to be independent” has become a common refrain from advisors as they entertain visions of escaping the limitations of being captive employees, and are drawn to the autonomy and flexibility of business ownership. But the reality of what this actually means soon sinks in for the career-long employee who has always relied on firm management to run (for better or worse) every aspect of the business, with access to solutions to every problem at his fingertips.
For the advisor who can see his future as an independent business owner, except for all the other responsibilities, distractions and potential headaches that necessarily come along with it, the industry has produced a myriad of options that can guide and support the formerly captive advisor in his efforts to be independent. Advisors can feel overwhelmed by the very idea of what’s involved in setting up their own firm. They may have a strong team infrastructure in place that operates well within the confines of a wirehouse, yet have no idea how to get started or what questions to ask about how to set up an independent enterprise, such as which model of independence is best for them. The good news for them is that sophisticated support is out there, and it’s no longer the cottage industry it was a few years ago, frantically trying to keep pace with a rapidly evolving landscape. Industry experts can explain the pros and cons of the choices and help to narrow the options.
Once the choice of model is made, advisors must figure out how to set up the actual business: space, technology, and platform are all critical choices that must be researched and put in place. For captive advisors, this is the first time that they likely have had to give these questions any degree of thought. For the advisor who needs help with the startup phase, turnkey solutions for establishing independent firms are now readily available. Dynasty Financial Partners and HighTower Network, for example, were specifically created to address this. There are also professional “project managers” who can be retained to run the build out process through to the firm’s launch. Advisors who want a business that is customized specifically for them can get exactly what they envision without doing any of the heavy lifting and without neglecting the demands of their current business.
For those whose need for support extends beyond start-up to the ongoing day-to-day operation of the firm, help is out there as well. It is possible to outsource COO, CCO and CIO roles to third party experts allowing the firm principal to focus on what he loves and values most—typically being in front of clients and prospects. Advisors who don’t want to be responsible for their own regulatory supervision can engage a specialist law firm or third party compliance consultancy – such as New Jersey-based MarketCounsel – to handle required regulatory filings, make sure the firm is audit-ready and perform necessary ongoing supervision.
Not so long ago, advisors had to choose between the freedom of business ownership and the simplicity and support of employee status. Now advisors get to choose just how independent they want to be and can select which of the responsibilities they will reserve for themselves and which they want to outsource, all without losing control or missing a beat. The desire to build equity in an enterprise and to serve clients in a manner that’s truer to a fiduciary mindset doesn’t have to come at the price of becoming a slave to the daily grind, not when help is out there.
Independence has taken on new meanings in the last few years. So many models and platforms have emerged that advisors looking for independence can essentially pick and choose to be as “independent” as they want to be—they get to decide what matters most.