For the past few years, broker-dealers, or what we like to call independent advisory and brokerage firms (IABs) given the rising number of fee-based client relationships across the industry, have focused their efforts on serving advisors in a post-Department of Labor fiduciary rule environment.
The fundamental question was how to provide the tools, resources and platforms needed to ease the transition from a sales and commission-based business model to one that furthers the delivery of advice.
Now, though, the recent overhaul of the tax code has presented our industry with another challenge or opportunity, depending on your outlook. Firms are now, more than ever, considering how to service the ever-growing list of advisors who have added, or are seeking to add, tax-planning capabilities to their practice.
This is hardly surprising in light of recent reforms. With advisors focusing on providing clients with more of an end-to-end, holistic and advice-based experience, enabling tax-savvy investment strategies should be a core focus for any firm going forward.
But not everyone will be able to deliver what advisors need. The following is what firms have to deliver to tax-focused financial advisors:
1. Formalized, in-house professional networks. It’s not at all uncommon, of course, for advisors to come together informally to discuss the latest industry trends and swap best practices.
Many tax-focused advisors have been commiserating with their peers like this for years, especially since, up until now, it has been a relatively small group.
IAB firms, however, are uniquely positioned to take such gatherings to the next level by using their collective resources to build a more formalized, professional network consisting of tax-savvy advisors within their community — who, beyond having similar business models, are likely to have a common set of goals and a shared culture.
This may include hosting regular webinars. The aim would be to reinforce existing best practices but also to shed fresh light on a slice of the tax code that is either commonly misunderstood or not well known, but which could have significant financial planning implications for clients.
It may also include study groups to facilitate the exchange of new ideas and to brainstorm new services and offerings that would benefit clients. Tax preparation may happen once a year, but tax planning happens throughout the year.
2. Tax-centric technology tools. Even the most experienced tax-focused financial advisors have trouble navigating the complicated thicket of rules and guidelines that make the United States tax code. Without the right tech support, it’s pretty easy to miss out on opportunities for clients — or, worse, cost them money.
There are, for instance, rebalancing tools available that will help advisors better manage the tax implications associated with short- versus long-term gains, as well as the ones derived from losses.
Some auto-rebalancing programs rotate clients in and out of positions without regard to the tax consequences, something that could put even the best advisor-client relationships to the test.
Firms, of course, have a number of other tax-centric tech tools at their disposal. The primary goal of each, however, should be to make taxes, which are often esoteric and difficult to understand, more clear-cut for both the advisor and the client. This will make the process of delivering holistic advice much easier.
3. Product partners that deliver customized support. Not all investment types have the same tax treatment. That is not news to any advisor.
At the same time, it can be difficult, even for the most tax-savvy advisor, to discern which individual products are the best match for a client because every situation is different. This is where a firm having the right product partner can make a difference.
Some product partners take a hands-on, collaborative approach, working to ensure advisors have a full understanding of their solutions.
Others, though, are merely merchants: They put the product on the shelf — it is up to you to figure out what to do from there, which, in reality, does not make them much of a “partner” at all.
It’s easy to look at the changes brought on by both the fiduciary era and, more recently, reforms to the tax code, as challenges.
But, frankly, it is just as easy to make the case that they present a great opportunity—especially for advisors with tax capabilities who can leverage that expertise to their advantage in a market that is increasingly coming to prize holistic, comprehensive advice that transcends mere investments.
Without the right facilitating partner, though, it may be far more difficult to take full advantage.
Wade Wilkinson is CEO of Securities Service Network an IAB part of the Ladenburg Thalmann network of firms.