Is It (Finally) Time to Go Independent?

Is It (Finally) Time to Go Independent?

Going independent. You’ve been thinking about it for years, but something has always stood in the way.


The safety of a big organization. The familiarity with the people, technology, and processes. The comfort of not having to manage all the details of a small business. And yet you keep wondering: Is independence for me?

If those thoughts have crossed your mind, now may be the perfect time to explore your options. The reason? Not only could the move fatten your paycheck, but the industry is changing at light speed, and much of that change has created an environment that’s more supportive of independent advisors than it has ever been. Here are just a few things that make it worthwhile to ponder your next move:

The DOL fiduciary rule.


This has been coming down the pike for a while, and though some are hopeful that a new administration in the White House will delay or even stamp out the restrictions on commissions in retirement accounts completely, most everyone agrees that the shift to fee-based is inevitable—even if it doesn’t happen immediately. In the past month, many of the biggest players have laid out their plans for a post-DOL rule world. Capital One Investing, JPMorgan Chase, Merrill Lynch, and Wells Fargo have all said they are not allowing commission based product sales in retirement accounts. Morgan Stanley and Raymond James are among the few that plan to continue to allow commissions for IRAs (which may put them and their advisors at risk). Going solo gives you the freedom to make your own choice regarding commissions and fee-based business moving forward based on your assessment of the risks and your ability to manage them And with the rule set to go into effect April 10, you have no time to waste.

Hybrid fee options.


As a result of the pending DOL rule, commission-based firms have been scrambling to find solutions that help maintain their revenues while complying with the new regulations. Luckily, there’s been a boon in platforms that offer RIAs the ability to operate their own fee-based business while leveraging a broker-dealer for commission-based products. At the same time, some independent broker-dealers have created their own hybrid platforms to offer in-house custody and services or partnerships with "outside" fee-based custodial platforms. Both types of options ease the transition to a fee-based business—while keeping you in business in the interim. 

New technology and research solutions.


One reason many advisors chose to go with wirehouses in the first place was to gain access to top-notch technology and in-house research. But oh, how times have changed. As technology has advanced in the past decade, you’d be hard pressed to find a technology solution you can’t access as an independent. From clearing house, to asset management, to robo-advice platforms, technology is readily available—and at a price an independent firm can actually afford. The same goes for research. For advisors who take a more tactical approach to investing, smart, original research on the economy, stocks, and market trends is a vital part of the business. The menu of proprietary research providers seems to grow every day, so finding a firm that aligns with your own investment philosophy can be a simple task.

RIA-friendly products.


In the days when the wirehouses controlled the lion’s share of assets, most product sponsors geared their models toward these national firms. But as the pool of RIAs has grown, independent advisors have earned much greater influence. A 2015 IAA/SRS study estimated that there were 11,473 SEC-registered advisors at the time, managing $66 trillion. Any sponsor would be foolish to ignore those numbers. And they haven’t. Today, sponsors are designing products to work for organizations of any size and model—including broker-dealers, RIAs, and hybrids. When it comes to what types of products you can access for your clients, the sky is the limit – even as an independent.

The happiness factor.


In the end, this may be what matters most: What’s going to make you happy? Almost every independent who has made the move from a wirehouse environment will tell you that the primary reason they jumped ship was to gain the freedom to serve their clients better. No product restrictions. No sales goals. No commissions. Yes, going solo means you have to manage a small business, and whether that business is an ice cream shop or an RIA, being a small business owner requires a special skill set. You have to manage you own books hire your own staff, manage your own compliance, but you also have the freedom to control your own brand, set your own goals and, ultimately, be your own boss.

If you smile just thinking about it, it’s time to dig deeper, because from product to compliance to back office processing, it’s never been easier to go independent.

Bill Acheson
Investing in Life
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Bill Acheson is Chief Financial Officer of GWG Holdings, Inc. Bill is ideally suited to inform financial professionals and investors about specialty finance, alternative inves ... Click for full bio

Cyborgs Are the Future for Advisors

Cyborgs Are the Future for Advisors

Becoming cyborgs is the way to go for financial advisers…blending robotics and humans into one organism.


You see, I am convinced that robo-advice models will succeed and prosper.

I am also convinced that human advisers will succeed and prosper.

I am further convinced that some of each will fail entirely and die, but in Darwinian fashion the most adaptable will survive and prosper. Smart financial advisers will work out how to become cyborgs and build an offering which is a blend of human and machine – or at least their practice will.

Despite the fear-mongering when it comes to robo’s the reality is that there are many great arguments for automated transaction systems, or robotic product delivery.  Cost reduction for the consumer, cost reduction for the practitioner….efficiency, speed, convenience for all….elimination of the frustrating and time consuming service model supplied by the industry to low value transactional customers….and let’s be bluntly honest: some people DO just need a product solution at some stages of their life, and DO NOT need holistic advice at some points.

Robo-advice makes sense commercially, and it can meet a need in life stages planning for many consumers.  It also happens to appeal to a segment of society who are happy to make their own decisions and transact from the comfort of their pyjamas during the ads in their evening television program, and who are unlikely to engage in full advice.  It is worth remembering that this last type of consumer segment is growing at the expense of the traditional intermediated product delivery systems of distribution.

However, machines do not “manage” relationships and behaviour – humans manage humans.  Humans tend to rebel against the concept (or slightest inference actually) that they are being manipulated or are at the mercy of computers and machines.  Machines and automated systems exist for our convenience, don’t they?  Nobody wants a “SkyNet”.

……So the human adviser remains in the equation……

When we strip out all the industry jargon and hyperbole the primary function of a financial adviser is to manage clients behaviour.  We don’t really manage their money – other people do the actual money management. We don’t supply products….we source them from a supplier.   What we do is manage their behaviour and expectations.  We coach them.  Machines don’t do that yet….and when they are able to (and they will be), most consumers will shy away from being managed by a machine.

But we cannot escape those arguments supporting robo-offerings as they make too much sense for clients and for us. In fact I suspect robo-advice will be a very good thing for smart adviser practices.

Believe it or not, I believe robo-offerings can help us get clients.

For most consumers there is a period early in life when their financial advice needs are fairly basic, and also there is a period later in life where all the planning has been done and consumers are moving into “drawdown” territory.  In between those times, life gets somewhat busier and complexity increases substantially.

Advice delivered by humans should be focussed upon the complexity phase.  Apart from the fact that this is the period of a consumers life when there are the most variables to consider in their planning needs, it is also the phase where behaviour management is a distinct help to the achievement of the consumers goals and objectives.  Generally people will only do uncomfortable or new things if they have a high degree of trust and confidence in the person guiding them to do so, and establishing that level of trust – or the bond between two people – is where robo-offerings will struggle to compete.

However, when it comes to identifying a fairly simple need which has a product solution then robo’s will certainly be able to deliver a solution more cost effectively and faster than the human adviser can, who is bound by increasing complexity of their own called “compliance” every time they have to interact with another human being.

The smart adviser will identify those areas of their clients lives and those product solutions which work well for those times and find a transactional solution for their clients to access.  They will build that transactional, no-advice, solution into the service offering that their practice puts into the market.  In other words they will embrace and incorporate robo-offerings into their business model.

Why?

Not just because consumers want them or need them, and not just because it is cost effective to do so.  Not even because we’d like to have a commercial revenue stream which sidesteps the more time-consuming (and therefore labour intensive and expensive) compliance requirements.

The reason smart advisers will do it is because it will help gather the next generation of clients for the firm before the complexity triggers drive them to seek advice elsewhere.


The robo-advice solution caters to those who have an identifiable need for financial services of one sort or another, but who do not yet need holistic bespoke planning.  It is an entry point for consumers to become customers of the firm, and for the firm to then work upon converting those transactional customers into advised clients for the future.

Robotics are a part of our world and our future.  We need to figure out how to make them a part of our business too, but in such a way that our business uses the robo’s, rather than being used by them.  Humans and robo’s integrated into the same service business in order to deliver they type of solutions and assistance that consumers and customers and clients want at different stages of their life.

The future for the financial advisory practice is cyborgs.

Tony Vidler
Development
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Tony Vidler is the expert in professional services on creating strong personal branding and target marketing positioning. Tony has been in financial services since 1990, ... Click for full bio