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Helping Advisors Smooth Out the Bumpy Road to Independence

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With a forte in analysis and numbers, Cindy Halpern, chief operating officer and controller of Advisory Services Network, was in on the ground floor when the Atlanta-based RIA opened its doors.

With the trend toward independence, the 10-year old firm — which specializes in helping broker-dealer advisors break away — continues to grow with some 150 indie advisors and about $3.5 billion on its platform.

Before ASN was launched, Halpern worked for the firm’s sister firm, Mainstay Capital, which does regulatory consulting for the securities industry. The executive has lived in Atlanta for 26 years, but hasn’t lost her New York roots or accent.

“We found we were building a lot of different [independent advisor firms] for people, and they were coming back to us saying, ‘Hey, we don’t really know how to run [the business] you built for us,’” she explained.

“They were great working with their clients and doing investment advisory work, but when it came to compliance and back-office operations, they were stumbling,” Halpern said, noting that this is why owners (and mentors) Tom Prescott Jr. and Dave Paulukaitis started the firm.

Today, ASN has 17 people who support advisors with $10 million to over $275 million in assets under management. And they still work with their first client.

“Our independent advisors do everything that’s client-facing, and we do everything behind the scenes for them,” she explained. “So many of them, after they’ve come to us, feel relieved that they don’t have to worry about all of the operational issues and compliance, and [they get to] essentially do what they enjoy most: working with their clients directly.”

Plus, over the past 10 years (15 including time with Mainstay), the avid Ted Talk listener has had a front-row seat to watch one of the biggest trends in the business: the move to independence.

“It’s been a huge change in that so many people want to become a fee-only IAs,” Halpern said. “We constantly get people who are dropping their BD licenses, dropping their BD books, converting what assets they can from a BD to the IA side so they can be fee only.”

Here are more excerpts from our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Did you have any challenges as a woman in the business?

HALPERN: [No], at least in the environment here at ASN I’ve never felt that at all. When I first started [working], I had a young family, and in working so much at the firm, it was a little challenging for me to figure out a pattern that would [be] right for both work and family. I’ve been here 15 years and now my [two] kids are grown up and out of the house on their own.

I also feel that by me having had a strong career, in raising my children I gave them a fantastic example of the way that business works and the way that we make the family work in conjunction with the business.

How did you balance being a young mother and starting your career?

Organization and scheduling are really two very important things to make sure that everything flows correctly. I’m one of those people who lives by my calendar and makes sure that I have all of my tasks in a row on what I have to do, where I have to be, and when I have to be someplace.

Also [it helps to have] a partnership in raising a family — a [spouse] — to share in all of those tasks together. I’ve always received a lot of support from my family on my career and assisting me along the way.

What advice would give to young people?

Any task that anybody has ever put on me, I just tackle it. I never say no [when] anybody has asked for help with any tasks. And as the years have gone by in the company, I’ve just continually taken on more responsibility and tasks to round myself out.

It’s very good to get your feet wet in lots of different areas within the firm so that you can learn all of the different aspects of running the firm.

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