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Just as every wealth management firm has its own unique set of attributes and work environment, every advisor has his or her own criteria for what makes an ideal destination. Therefore, independent advisors looking to change firms should make every effort to find a broker-dealer and/or RIA that fits that criteria. But how?

If this were as simple as reading a brochure, advisors would not spend so much time agonizing over the choice. While many firms do strive to capture what they offer in marketing materials, much of what advisors care about when seeking a new affiliation or group of colleagues can only be verified through lived experience.

Because nobody can be sure of that beforehand, the next best thing is a step-by-step guide to help increase advisor confidence and success in finding a partnership in a place they will thrive for the rest of their careers. Based on my frequent conversations with advisors on this topic, there are four steps to the process.

  • Know the traits you want at your new broker-dealer or RIA. Starting with a clear vision of your ideal partnership removes a lot of firms from consideration. Some traits are commonly sought after but others will be particular to your practice, lifestyle and personality.

Most advisors prefer a firm that offers easy access to senior leaders who communicate  frequently about organizational issues that can affect business. Another near-universally appealing trait is home office staffers who actually know your name, and that of your team, and do everything they can to simplify workflows and increase your ease of doing business.

However, if you also want a firm that possesses less common traits — like those that may exist primarily in a certain region of the country, or that can only exist at a firm with both a small boutique feel and a large enterprise capacity, or have specific capabilities (e.g. ERISA expertise), then narrow your search.

  • Speak with experienced consultants for information on such firms. Although you should compile your own list of firms that you believe possess your desired attributes, a well-connected recruiter or M&A specialist in the independent space likely will be able to help fine tune that list significantly.

Granted, you will have to do your homework before landing on the proper consultant. Too many so-called experts have not been working in their niche long enough to know what to look for or have not developed the best contacts, meaning they lack insight into the distinguishing practices and procedures of firms across the industry.

A good consultant not only matches you with a list of firms that could be the right fit, but they also can explain why that’s the case, providing references that can substantiate their recommendations.

  • Meet with a firm’s current and former advisors. Your next step in the process is to speak to the people you can trust most. Ask advisors at those firms, or who just left, everything you wish someone had told you before you signed with up the firm you’re now seeking to depart.

Advisors who are currently with the firms on your list offer the advantage of real-time intelligence. That’s crucial for uncovering things such as how advisors and back-office staff view management, pain points that never make it into official presentations, as well as perks that insiders don’t brag about anymore because they’ve all but taken them for granted.

Those advisors who recently left the firms on your list offer the advantage of greater disclosure. Even while abiding by NDAs, someone who no longer lives with the daily oversight and interpersonal dynamics of a firm is more likely to speak freely. The caveat is that some who leave under clouded circumstances may harbor ingrained biases.

  • Conduct onsite visits with management and home office staff. Because a work environment must ultimately be experienced to be felt, arrange to receive a tour of the final few firms that make it through your list. After carrying out the rest of the process, meeting senior leaders and key employees on their turf will give you as complete a picture as you should expect to obtain.

At each firm you tour, ask any business-related question that comes to mind. Then compare those answers both with what all your other trusted contacts have told you about the firm, and with the answers you receive while touring the other firms. Now recall your ideal work environment, and determine which firm seems the closest match.

Finally, ask yourself whether what you’ve seen and heard during the tour of that closest match feels real. Think long and hard about committing if the firm does not pass that reality check. But if it does, congratulations — you have found your new firm.


Erinn Ford is President and CEO of KMS Financial Services (www.kms.com), an independent advisory and brokerage firm based in Seattle and a subsidiary of Ladenburg Thalmann.