Transitioning to a new firm is a stressful process, even if you have ample time to plan and prepare for the break. Depending on the type of firm you are leaving, you may not be able to prepare much. “Nonamicable breaks,” or transitions from firms that don’t allow advisors to take any client data, require you to publicly source client information first, before reaching out to let clients know you have left the firm.
If you are leaving an independent firm where you have ownership over your clients and data, you have a lot more flexibility around how you can prepare for your break. If it’s possible, I recommend giving yourself six months to prepare for the transition. Your objective during that time frame will be twofold: to review and organize all of your client data and to solidify a game plan for moving accounts once clients have agreed to come with you.
In this blog, I will provide you with several best practices and steps you can take prior to resigning that will ensure you hit the ground running once you are registered with your new firm.
Review Your Employment Agreements
The first step you should take before resigning is reviewing your current employment agreements and any internal firm employment manuals or documents with your attorneys. Even though many years may have passed since you joined your current firm, the original contract you signed will dictate what you can and cannot do before and after resigning. Here are a few things you'll want to keep an eye out for as you review your documents.
- Garden leave provisions. Garden leaves usually last 30 days and begins the day you resign. During a garden leave you will not be able to reach out to clients or let them know you are leaving. Your outreach to clients thus will begin the day after your garden leave is over.
- Nonsolicitation clauses. A nonsolicit will prevent you from soliciting any clients to your new firm, even if you are the one who sourced the relationship. Nonsolicits sometimes include employees of the firm as well. If a client reaches out to you, however, and it’s provable that they have, that is not considered a solicit. Keep in mind that all communications can be subpoenaed if you enter litigation with your former employer.
- Whether your firm adheres to Broker Protocol. Broker Protocol firms allow advisors to take five pieces of client information (and only those pieces of information) if they are leaving and joining another Protocol firm. That information includes the client’s name, address, telephone number, email address and account title. No other information, including account statements or financial plans, is to be taken.
- Information around who owns your data. Believe it or not, you may not be allowed to take all of the data you have accumulated about your clients to your new firm. Some firms list out exactly what you are allowed to take, while others require advisors to ask permission for data after resigning. You will want to get clarity over whether you can take the following pieces of data before you resign: your CRM data, your email history, historical performance reports, client statements and copies of financial plans.
Review and Organize All of Your Client Data
In order to minimize not-in-good-orders (NIGOs) while opening accounts, and ensure a smooth transition, you’ll want to review all of your CRM data as it currently stands.
Keep in mind that whatever you export from your CRM is what is going to be imported into your new CRM, and then entered into the transfer paperwork you send to clients. As the saying goes: garbage in, garbage out.
As you review all your CRM contacts, consider the following:
- Is there missing information like a birth year or phone number?
- Is information listed in an incorrect field? For example, is a client’s new address listed in the notes field instead of address field?
- Do email addresses appear accurate (e.g., “.com” instead of “.con”)?
- Have you learned new information about a client that you haven’t yet updated into the CRM?
I recommend using two data spreadsheets to manage your transition. One should include all the data found in your CRM, including your clients’ demographic information, meeting notes, important dates and any tags that have helped you with niche marketing efforts. This spreadsheet will be imported into your new CRM and should be used to seamlessly help you fill out new account paperwork.
The other spreadsheet should include a full list of client accounts and/or products owned. This list can be pulled from your custodial portal or investment management platform. You'll want to make sure this list also includes information like account registration type and beneficiary names. (Make sure that the way your client’s name is spelled in your CRM matches the way their account is listed.) This is the spreadsheet you should use to track accounts as they come over to your new custodian.
Separately you will want to make sure that you have copies of all the information necessary to open accounts such as trust documents, EIN numbers, voided checks etc. Check with your new custodian to make sure you have a clear list of everything that is needed to open every type of account in your book.
Finalize and Prioritize Data
Once you have your full list of households, clients and accounts, you’ll want to make sure that you have reviewed each household and made note of any changes you will communicate to clients (such as a change in fee) and anything you may need to be mindful of during the transition (such as a preference for signing physical paperwork). I recommend making three additional columns in your master spreadsheet: Changes to be Communicated, New Fee and Considerations. This way you and your team are all on the same page throughout the transition.
Next, you will want to prioritize your households into three categories. Level one households represent top relationships and the clients who you will be calling within the first day or two of resigning. Level two households are clients who you are confident will come over and/or clients who do not have to be contacted within the first 24 hours. Priority three clients are usually clients who are either family members or smaller relationships or clients who will take direction from an email and do not need to speak to you personally. This list will dictate the way in which you communicate the news of your transition once you are live with your new firm.
Transferring Data to Your New Tech Stack
In addition to demographic and account data, there is likely a lot of information you have accumulated over the years about your clients: statements, budgets, performance reports, financial plans, planning assumptions, etc.
Before you resign, familiarize yourself with your new tech stack. Even if you are going to be using the same tech, you may be using a different version of the software that will prevent you from being able to seamlessly migrate over. Here are some things you’ll want to ask:
- Can my new CRM import my data for me? When do they need my spreadsheet by?
- How can I ensure all the fields in my current CRM map over to my new CRM?
- Do my planning assumptions map over to my new software, or will I have to recreate them?
- Will my clients get new log-ins to the portal?
- Will my clients need to relink their accounts?
- Will my historical performance map over?
- What will happen to the documents in my clients’ vault?
Create a working document with answers to all your questions so that you and your team can refer back as your date of resignation gets closer.
On a final note, transitions are rarely without issues. Give yourself ample time to prepare and don’t be afraid to double- and triple-check with your new firm and tech providers around how they will support you. In the end, the close relationships you have with your clients will dictate the success of the transition. But it is in your best interest to prepare well and make your clients’ lives (and your life) as easy as possible while money is in motion.
Penny Phillips is the co-founder and president of Journey Strategic Wealth.