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Picking Your Partners

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A popular notion is that advisors must establish a niche in order to distinguish themselves from competitors. Carstens says while finding a niche helps, advisors should first figure out who “they want to be in bed with,” meaning who they want as partners–that being, partners running the firm as well as outside firms providing complementary services. “You can’t be an expert on everything, and clients realize that, especially the high-net-worth clients,” he says. “You need to have people in separate disciplines who are experts, then see who are your natural clients.”

One of the partners that Lenox is in bed with is National Financial Partners (NFP), which acquired Lenox in 2001. NFP has been instrumental in helping Lenox hone its wealth management strategy, Van Benschoten says. With help from NFP, Lenox acquired Tom Henske and Greg Olsen’s advisory practices last year, which has “enabled us to grow via acquisitions as opposed to simply organically,” he says. “NFP comes in and provides all of the due diligence, models the business transaction, and provides the financing.” Another plus is that Lenox can tap specialists working for other NFP advisory firms. “If we come across a deferred compensation client or need, and we don’t do it in-house, we can use one of the other member firms to do it,” he says. “We used to be competition with that firm, but now everybody is under the same umbrella so we work together.” Lenox still has strong ties to MassMutual on the product side–specifically as a provider of individual life and disability insurance–and clears through MassMutual’s broker dealer, MML Investors.