Obviously, any advisor can pick up a phone and contact a branch manager to discuss changing jobs. Why bother with a recruiter?
It's an interesting question. Before I get into the details on how an executive recruiter can make your search both more efficient and more effective, I want to first caution you to distinguish between professional recruiters and "pump and dumpers," that is, people who call themselves recruiters but who are more like fly-by-night artists: They introduce you to different firms, move on to something else, and only call back sometime down the road to check if they are owed any fees.
By contrast, professional recruiters actively quarterback the job search process and are very valuable in helping advisors in firm selection and putting together deals - especially in the current environment.
Despite the contraction among the big wirehouses, the marketplace has actually expanded. And during these tempestuous times, good recruiters are critical guides explaining the pros and cons of different types of firms.
They can advise you on critical details, including how well different firms are adapting to the market turmoil, whether they are traditional wirehouses, regionals, independents or high-end boutiques. Well-connected recruiters should also have an insiders' view of the firms and can then help with due diligence, ensuring you know the good, bad and ugly before you join. Skilled recruiters make sure that you connect to the right home office people, advisors, and other key individuals.
Strategically, good recruiters help to position a financial advisor as "hard to get." Prospective firms will realize quickly that they need to work extra hard to woo you.
Further, professional recruiters can help negotiate a better deal. They should know both the firms and the individual hiring authorities very well, what's doable and when not to waste political capital. For example, knowledgeable recruiters know that in today's market you can't get a wirehouse to shorten upfront deals to five or six years from nine or 10, the new norm.
In the event that advisors decide to switch firms, recruiters help to make the transition more efficient. They can help ensure that the process is "protocol compliant" for a smoother transfer of assets. This relieves anxiety.
In sum, savvy recruiters have powerful incentives to do a good job, and it's not just the fees: They want branch managers to welcome their calls because they perceive the recruiter to be honest and well-informed. And, of course, recruiters seek the ultimate compliment from you - referrals to other advisors.
Mark Elzweig is president of New York-based Mark Elzweig Company, executive search consultants.