Financial advisors are using this “work from home” environment as an opportunity to evaluate their firms as well as their own business lives.
October marks seven months since most of us entered into some version of quarantine. And today, there is still no telling how the world will be altered. But perhaps the biggest change foisted upon those in wealth management has been working from home, or “WFH.”
While it may have been familiar before, that little acronym has become part of our lexicon. A new survey by Broadridge Financial Solutions reports that nearly 60 percent of advisors are still working from home, and 27 percent are either unsure about getting back to the office or have no plans to do so.
This represents a significant shift in our culture—as the vast majority of advisors worked in an office environment, enjoying the accountability, community and collaboration that naturally occurs when advisors and their teams are housed under one roof. In the past, those benefits often made up for the trials of a long commute and lifestyle disruptions.
Over the past several months, I’ve spoken with many advisors about the ways in which the pandemic has affected their ability to serve their clients, manage their teams, be productive and grow their businesses.
And as you can imagine, their responses have been all over the map.
Some have voiced frustration over the lack of control they have without being able to run to the office whenever they need something. Others have touted the numerous opportunities they’ve uncovered while working from home. Still others have shared that they wish they had a choice: the ability to come into the office as needed and escape some of the “disruptions” being home with family tends to bring.
Regardless of their subjective experiences, the pandemic is undoubtedly having an impact on the industry at large—one of which is the acceleration of numerous trends that were in the making prior to March of this year. That is, the movement towards the independent space.
The momentum continues
My team and I are often asked about movement during the current environment, and interestingly, it’s extremely active. Check out any trade publication and you’ll see that teams of all sizes are moving between firms or to some form of independence. For example, in the last few weeks headlines included a $3.3B Merrill team’s move to Morgan, a $1.1B UBS team’s transfer to Raymond James, and a $500mm Morgan Stanley team’s move to Rockefeller Capital Management—and I’m sure there will be plenty more by the time this publishes.
So what’s driving advisors to change firms and models “at a time like this?”
Advisors have shared some of the realizations that they’ve had which are prompting changes like these. For instance:
They’re more productive than ever before.
Virtually every advisor we speak with tells us they haven’t missed a beat. Productivity is as high as or higher than it’s ever been, and their teams are happy working remotely, making them consider life “outside of their firms” more seriously.
They’re asking, Is the status quo good enough?
Recently, advisors have had more time to reflect. They’ve had the chance to slow down and take stock of the tech stack and other remote services on which they have depended, their ability to communicate with clients and more to assess the overall value their firms offer. As such, they have a better idea of whether or not their firm is truly meeting their needs.
They’re exploring other options.
The privacy working remotely provides has also given them the opportunity to explore their options—whether that means speaking with a recruiter, connecting with reps from other firms or considering what independence might look like.
They’re seeing the work from home environment as a trial run for independence.
Some advisors are taking things a step further, viewing their current setup as an experiment in independence.
In fact, we recently helped move a group of advisors from a wirehouse to independence, thanks in part to what this team discovered over the past several months: They saw their relationships with clients deepen as the pandemic unfolded, and when they made the leap the vast majority of their clients moved with them.
While it was challenging, the pandemic showed the team how self-sufficient they were and gave them the confidence to make the leap.
Of course, as firms begin to bring their employees back to the office, many advisors will be thrilled to resume a more normal professional existence. However I anticipate that, having seen the benefits remote work can provide, a good percentage of them will demand a more flexible arrangement—and rightfully so. With that in mind, I believe we’ll also see the continuation of the trend towards independence.
Put simply, advisors have become intimately familiar with the benefits of working on their own terms, and that will make it hard to go back to the way things were before. And while advisors have been given a new lens through which to view their business lives, that doesn’t mean all will decide that moving is in order—but it does allow them the opportunity to think about their futures through a new perspective.