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Research Revolution

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For years, Dennis Gallant was a well-known director at Cerulli Associates, leading the firm’s consulting and new business development efforts. He was also responsible for generating key Cerulli Reports, covering financial industry trends and market intelligence. Not coincidentally, he was often quoted in the press — even elevated to something of a media darling.

But, over the last couple of years, the 44-year-old Gallant has assumed a low public profile while he quietly built his own research and consulting firm, GDC Research, and along with it a track record of assignments for key industry players. This fall, GDC Research and partner Practical Perspectives produced a comprehensive study on advisor best practices in the retirement income and longevity planning space that is likely to be much talked about. In January, Gallant and colleague Howard Schneider, president of Practical Perspectives, will launch a new monthly column here in Research magazine.

Suffice it to say Dennis Gallant is back doing what it is he does best: identifying emerging trends and evaluating their implications for the marketplace.

Gallant’s move to build his own firm comes at a compelling moment.

As he puts it: “This is not business as usual. This is a decade of transformation. I didn’t want to just provide insight from a research standpoint, but help clients build actionable solutions. I didn’t want to just talk about the trends, but help people retool and reposition their firms. There are enough trends here to create a revolution.”

Trends in the mix include the baby boomer wave; clients seeking more advice; heightened compliance issues; and a shortage of advisors. The outcome: a shift from an investment-oriented marketplace to one that is advice-oriented.

“Look at all these trends and there’s just this huge domino effect — and the role of the advisor is shifting as well. It’s much more complex. Clients are looking for more holistic solutions, fewer [advisor] relationships, peace of mind and broader capabilities and services,” says Gallant, whose firm — the GDC stands for Gallant Distribution Consulting — is based in Sherborn, Mass. “And they want their advice delivered in a different fashion.”

And, on an institutional level, such questions are beginning to arise as: How do I support and service this new-generation advisor? How do I train new recruits? What does it take to train a planner? What products do I need to develop?

And then there is the question Gallant asks himself daily: How do you help firms — asset managers, broker-dealers, clearing firms, technology providers, among them — deal with all of these transitions?

Over the years, Gallant has developed close relationships with financial advisors across the spectrum of channels and it is to them that he often turns as a source of research and insight. The new report, “Advisor Best Practices: Retirement Income & Transition Support,” is signature Gallant: loaded with research that’s bolstered by unfiltered opinion and insight from advisors themselves.

It’s opinion that has a huge value-add. Most of the advisors have 20-years-plus in the business, are focused on affluent clients and are million-dollar-or-more producers. As GDC Research approaches its third year, Gallant says he hopes to deepen his relationship with advisors.

“Our goal going in was to help apply research and insight and strategic thinking to the institutions I work with. Now, we’re exploring ways to take that capability and bring it to the advisor as well,” Gallant said. “I’m not talking about coaching — but research. Ultimately, I think they’re the people that can benefit the most.”

A lifelong New Englander, Gallant worked the swing shift at a plastics manufacturer to pay his way through Salem State College, where he got a marketing degree. Days after the stock market crash of 1987, he joined Boston Company, answering phones in its shareholder services division. Ultimately, he helped build services around the firm’s RIA clients. While doing that, he was exposed to emerging twin trends: the nascent RIA marketplace and the move from commissions to fees.

“My interest isn’t where the marketplace is today, but where it might be tomorrow,” he says. “I’ve built my career following those trends and their implications in the marketplace.” Later corporate homes included Funds Distributor, where he served as vice president of marketing research, and Cerulli, for whom he established the Intermediary Research Group.

Today, Gallant is a sole proprietor aligned with several small consulting and research firms, including Practical Perspectives.

To hear Practical Perspectives’ Schneider tell it: “Dennis through the years has developed a keen insight and unique understanding of the advisor marketplace — from the advisor’s perspective in terms of how they structure their businesses, what drives their success, what skill sets are in demand — as well as from the perspective of those who distribute through advisors….So much of consulting in this marketplace is general. What he delivers is very tailored.”

The tagline of GDC Research is “Enabling Change” in the financial services industry. They are two words that speak volumes about Gallant’s drive. “I want to help enable it, not just identify it,” he says. “When I worked in the plastics business, it was very tangible. You see the output of what you create. Financial services is a very intangible business. That’s why I enjoy consulting so much. You can, hopefully, get clients to the point where you can see results — enable change.”

Freelance writer Ellen Uzelac is based in Chestertown, Md.; the former West Coast bureau chief and national correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, can be reached at [email protected].


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