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A Diehard Merrill Advisor’s Journey to Independence

With Michael Henley of Brandywine Oak Private Wealth and Louis Diamond of Diamond Consultants.


Like many other advisors who chose to go independent, Michael Henley found himself at a point in his wirehouse career when his professional life became more about “jumping through hoops” for the bank, than it was about doing what was best for his clients. The culture had changed enough that he felt his ability to conduct business in a way that was “objective and conflict-free” was no longer possible.

What’s really interesting is that Michael is just 34-years old and considered himself a “diehard Merrill Lynch advisor.” As the leader of a team with a partner less than 10 years from retirement, Michael had some tough decisions to make. Ultimately, he said, it came down to this: “We have to do what’s right for our clients and we have to keep our team happy.”

Late last year, Michael and his team launched the hybrid RIA Brandywine Oak Private Wealth—a firm that is representative of two key trends which are on the rise:

  • Younger advisors skipping the typical step of taking a transition deal from another brokerage firm in their first move, and instead betting on the long-term potential of independence.
  • Senior advisors forgoing “retire in place” packages from the wirehouses for the ability to design their own sunset program in the independent space.

Essentially, advisors are betting it all on their own ability to find the way to best serve their clients, grow their businesses and create a future that meets the needs of each of the team members.

In this episode, Michael explores:

  • The motivations behind his move—and why so early in his career.
  • Why his team, with one member nearing retirement, chose independence over Merrill’s CTP program—and what they did to make “go versus stay” worthwhile.
  • How they reconciled walking away from significant deferred compensation—and how they resolved both start-up costs as well as salaries in the short-term.
  • Why he felt limited in his ability to serve his clients—and how a move to the independent space solved for that.
  • What being “objective and conflict-free” really means to serving clients—and how it impacts building a business for the long-term.
  • Why serving a niche-client base is easier in the independent space—and how he and his team were able to replicate and improve upon client deliverables.
  • How his clients reacted to the move—and at 6 months in, how many of those clients have moved with him.
  • Why he feels getting educated is a critical part of the decision-making process—and how speaking to other Merrill breakaways helped influence his final decision.
  • Why so many younger advisors like him are making the leap so early in their careers—and why it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.
  • Whether he considers himself a “serial entrepreneur”—and if he feels that trait is a requirement for those who want to go independent.
  • His advice for all advisors considering a move to independence, regardless of their age—and how “keeping it simple” is a key principle to his success.

Additionally, Louis Diamond, who worked with Michael through due diligence, provides thoughts on how the “millennial mindset” plays a new role in the changing landscape and offers further background on Michael’s exploration process.

Listen in to learn why Michael says, “Sometimes the word independence can scare people,” and how getting educated can help dispel that fear—regardless of whether you feel independence is the next step in your career.

Listen to the podcast

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Mindy Diamond is President & CEO of Diamond Consultants in Morristown, N.J., a nationally recognized boutique search and consulting firm in the financial services industry.

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