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How Are So Many Advisors Switching Firms During the COVID Crisis?

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Despite the persistent challenges the pandemic has brought, the desire among advisors to best serve their clients and grow their businesses remains strong. And firms looking to attract top talent are motivated to make whatever changes necessary to showcase their capabilities, conduct home office visits and complete transitions.

Those advisors who are certain that the status quo is no longer serving them best are committed to moving forward. While the process differs from the way it was pre-COVID-19, what hasn’t changed is the faith that advisors place in the leadership of the new firm and/or custodian and the legal counsel advising them to ensure that the transition will go smoothly and seamlessly.

Making a move in the best of times requires courage, patience and flexibility — along with all the due diligence that precedes it. How are advisors and firms making it happen at a time when travel restrictions, quarantines and office closures rule?

Due Diligence and Home Office Visits

Using technology, firms now are performing due diligence and home office visits (HOVs) via virtual meetings and video conferencing. The ability to conduct the due diligence process from the comfort of their home is actually the preference of many advisors, who say it saves time and provides greater confidentiality.

“Advisor interest and feedback from remote HOVs since early April has been quite positive,” according to Scott Curtis, president of Raymond James’ Private Client Group. “We’re proud that our very personal HOV experience remains flexible and translates well to a virtual engagement.”

However, because it’s harder to read body language and get the best sense of how people interact with others online than it is in person, there still are some imperfections, Curtis acknowledges.

Most importantly, though, advisors conducting due diligence need to meet with the right people at the new firm to gain the confidence in the firm, and that their business can be replicated.

What has the transition process been for those advisors who have moved? Brian Neville, an attorney with Lax & Neville, said, “In the moves in which I represented the teams, the transitions have really gone smoothly. I’ve also been very impressed by the creativity and dedication that each receiving firm employed with each move.”

And it’s the combination of customization and ingenuity, plus a healthy reliance on modern technology, that ultimately drives the bus. One advisor who left UBS in March to launch an RIA found that the biggest challenge was not having actual people on-site to assist with the paperwork; instead he worked with his custodian, Fidelity Institutional, and relied on DocuSign eSignature to complete the process.

In some cases where individual state guidelines allow, firms are able to put some boots on the ground and provide transition support in the way of in-person guidance. For example, in June, UBS veteran Matt Kilgroe launched Cyndeo Wealth Partners, with the help of Dynasty Financial Partners and Fidelity Institutional Wealth Services. Because the St. Petersburg, Florida-based business was located in a more “open” part of the state [at that time], this $1.2 billion team had the freedom to run their transition out of their brand-new office space with in-person transition teams.

The Motivation

Because so many advisors report that they have deepened their relationships with clients throughout the COVID crisis, they believe this will translate into increased confidence in the portability of their assets. This has served as a powerful driver of movement — particularly for those advisors who used the lens of crisis as the view through which they identified better ways to serve their clients and grow their businesses.

Chris Freimuth, who launched the Denver, Colorado-based independent firm Elk River in March, told ThinkAdvisor, “The current situation has oddly proven to be a blessing,” allowing him to more easily contact clients, build relationships and remain connected.

Neville agrees that communication with advisors and clients has actually been easier for them during transition. “While a bit surprising at first, it turns out that a good time to switch firms is while working from home. Vacations aren’t happening so it has been easier for advisors to get in touch with their clients,” he said.

Additionally, for many folks, the pandemic served to inspire a “collective pause” — to refocus, reflect and regroup. Advisors are actually assessing their firms with a new perspective and taking stock of where the business is headed.

In the end, success of a move is primarily determined by these key factors: the depth of client relationships, the advisor’s commitment to serving their clients and their trust that the next chapter will be better. And it’s these elements that remain, regardless of the crisis.

Allie Brunwasser is a recruiting consultant at Diamond Consultants serving top financial advisors and independent business owners. A graduate of the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics at University of Delaware, she is a regular contributor to Diamond Consultants’ Perspectives blog and a mom to Jacob.