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Looking Forward to Get Beyond the Past


Getting nostalgic about how things were “back in the day” is fine, so long as you’re able to work successfully with the new realities of today.

Many tenured advisors possess a similar trait: They view the past through a strong pair of “rose-colored glasses.” When they think about their current firm, or potentially a new one, there is an expression of longing for “what was”—essentially, a place that no longer exists. Storied names of Wall Street past – such as E.F. Hutton, PaineWebber, A.G. Edwards, Advest, Lehman Brothers, Piper Jaffray, and Salomon Brothers, just to name a few – typically elicit nostalgic smiles and reminiscences of “the good old days.”

Were these firms of the past, and the times in which they existed, really all that utopian? Or is it just human nature for our recollections to become vague and sanguine over time? I would posit that it is more the latter than the former.

Revisionist history at its finest

Living in the past might be appropriate when attending one’s high school reunion, but it is certainly not the right mindset when thinking about your professional future. Sure, it’s easy to reflect fondly upon a time in which we lived, recalling it as if it were an episode of Ozzie and Harriet or The Brady Bunch (depending on the decade in which you spent your formative years); that is, a supportive, happy and “perfect” family. Yet it’s natural to forget the imperfections that may have existed, focusing only on the good times.

Similarly, we find financial advisors who want their firm, or one they dream of joining, to be just like it was in the “good old days.” They’re looking to recreate the best of a time and place that no longer exists except for within one’s memories.

Most of these firms that we so fondly recall have gone away completely or changed over time, taking on the culture of the banks that acquired them. As such, the new leadership’s less entrepreneurial nature couldn’t be more different from their wealth management counterparts, driving an evolution in both mindset and methodology—and forever changing the world as we knew it. But there’s even more to it…

It wasn’t just your firm that changed—the whole world changed.

It’s time to change the narrative

You owe it to yourself and your business to look at your prior work history as simply a source of experience – and with genuine honesty and void of sentimentality – as you are analyzing where you are now, as well as potential opportunities.

Here are a few realities you need to accept in order to shed the rose-colored glasses for a view with greater clarity and objectivity:

  • You and your clients have changed. Even if your current firm were in the exact same form and structure as you recollect, you and your clients are not. That firm that once was may not necessarily meet your business needs today.
  • Recreate it yourself. If you really believe that the way you were able to service clients in the past was better than today, you can certainly consider building your own independent firm, modeling it after the culture and practices you feel are missing.
  • Stop fighting the system. Yes, technology has advanced faster than any of us could have ever envisioned. And while years ago you may never have considered getting email on your cell phone, we now live in a world where it’s hard to imagine not being able to do so. So learn to embrace technological advances and change: You may find new and more efficient ways to grow and manage your business in the process.

While it’s fun to share your stories of the past, pining for something that no longer exists is often a way of deflecting from what’s really bothering you about your firm. So focus more on determining what, if anything, that might be.

Related: The Force Driving Today’s Wealth Management Industry

Take some time to get to know your firm for what it is today and its vision for tomorrow, and accept it for what it is. If in this process you find it’s the best place for you and your clients, then stay put and learn how best to work with what the firm offers. And if not, explore other opportunities that may be a closer fit to what you’re looking for—but do so with an open mind and clear expectations. That is, there is no absolute perfection – past or present – yet there is always the potential of something better.

So take off your rose-colored glasses and look closely at what lies before you – new technologies, firm structures and opportunities – and set out to make today a nostalgic story to share for tomorrow.

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