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10 Must-Ask Questions to Help You Take More Control of Your Practice

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The desire for greater control and flexibility has become the single most powerful driver of advisor movement and change. This concept of “wanting greater agency over their business lives” cuts across all business models and has never been more prevalent.

And it’s a mindset that is influencing the choices advisors make both as to where they work and how they want to run their businesses.

Over the past few years, advisors started viewing their practices as “true businesses” and this has created new expectations for control. As such, advisors are looking to take on more decision-making authority than ever before when it comes to certain aspects of their professional lives — accepting less intrusion from their firm, whether they are employees or business owners.

So as advisors think through their business lives, they are asking these 10 threshold questions around the areas where they are looking to exercise more control:

1. Teaming: “Do I need or want a partner or to be part of a team?”

There may be value in being a part of the right team, but it’s not ideal for every advisor, especially if a suitable partner can’t be identified.

Advisors increasingly take issue with firm incentives to be on a team, or disincentives to remain a solo advisor — and are looking to feel equally supported regardless of which path they take.

2. Client relationships: “Which clients can I/should I work with?”

Client relationships are often the result of very personal decisions that can reflect an advisor’s key values.

Advisors want to decide who they take on as a client, often objecting to requirements to add a certain number of new clients each year or only to work with clients above a certain asset threshold.

3. Growth: “What are the appropriate growth goals and measures?”

While growth is a top priority for most advisors, they want to create their own benchmarks, rather than be obligated under a firm’s mandates. This is especially true for advisors who don’t feel they have capacity to add relationships.

4. Compensation: “What compensation structure or metrics work best with my client values and business goals?”

Advisors can struggle with bonuses and other elements of a compensation plan that reward certain types of behavior; for example, making referrals to other lines of business such as banking.

Quality advisors tend to have comprehensive practices that incorporate a variety of resources to serve clients, yet they want the autonomy to decide what resources and for which clients this is appropriate.

5. Support staff: “Can I hire the talent I need and want, and can I determine their roles and compensation?”

The appropriate amount and quality of support is critical to an advisor’s success. Yet, they often feel most challenged in this area because a firm’s hiring practices can be formulaic, inflexible and seemingly unresponsive to specific needs.

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6. Succession planning: “Can I customize a retirement plan as to both the timing and the economics?”

Firm sunset plans are a relatively new and effective way for a senior partner to monetize the business, yet they typically lack the flexibility some teams need to meet everyone’s needs.

This is especially apparent with family teams who may have different objectives for creating continuity and planning for the future.

7. Investment management: “Do I want to be a portfolio manager, a manager of managers or something in between?”

There are still advisors who love the hands-on management of investments yet may feel they are being pushed towards more models and separate managers. Whichever direction they take, advisors want to be in control of this core decision that is fundamental to who they are and what they do.

8. Technology and other resources: “Do I have what I need, can I get what I want?”

Technology has become almost synonymous with platform: It controls both access to and depth and breadth of capabilities.

Open architecture has become the new gold standard so that the easier it is to identify and add resources and customize how tools are used, the more productive, efficient and successful an advisor can be.

9. Branding and marketing: “How important is it to develop a unique image and voice?”

Advisors often need flexibility to create and leverage a differentiated value proposition and may feel frustrated if the brand they must promote is limited to that of the larger firm.

Advisors are also seeking flexibility in how they communicate, outside of investment advice, with clients. Being able to use a variety of means to connect is increasingly important to deepening relationships with clients.

10. Firm direction: “Do I want a voice in setting policy and determining the firm’s future, especially as it relates to my clients and my individual practice?”

Advisors want to be heard. They have expectations that management will serve as advocates within the firm to help them accomplish their goals and intervene in challenges—not leave them isolated and unsupported.

While no advisor can always get what they want, it’s transparency and honesty from firm leadership that they tend to value most.

It’s when advisors are missing “control” in these 10 areas that they are most likely to look for options outside of their firm — which can naturally lead to exploring independence, representing the greatest level of control and flexibility. However, advisors may also use their expectations for control as a litmus test by which to evaluate any opportunity.

We often assume that it’s only the advisors who want to be business owners who value control, flexibility and autonomy in their business lives.

Yet every day, advisors share that even as employees, they are independent thinkers who must control critical aspects of their practices to best serve clients and live an authentic business life – one defined by the advisor — that is as satisfying as it is successful.


Barbara Herman is senior vice president of Diamond Consultants.