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Michael Kitces’ #FASuccess Podcast: The Pros and Cons of Independence With Michael Henley

Brandywine Oak Private Wealth’s Michael Henley describes the good and bad of breaking away from a wirehouse and going independent.


Welcome back with the 102nd episode of Financial Advisor Success podcast. This week’s guest is Michael Henley. Michael is the founder and CEO of Brandywine Oak Private Wealth, an independent advisory firm in the Brandywine Valley of Southeastern Pennsylvania that manages more than $500 million of client assets. What’s unique about Michael is that he’s a 34-year-old millennial, who only just recently founded his independent advisory firm a few months ago as a breakaway from Merrill Lynch, where he had spent the first decade of his career. And until recently, was so loyal to the firm that he even had his wedding cake shaped like a bull.

In this episode, we talk in-depth about what it’s like to build an advisory firm in the wirehouse environment, how the culture of wirehouses and the value of the wirehouse brand itself has begun to change in recent years. The way wirehouses have increasingly de-emphasized the role of commissions and have adopted forms of integrated grids that require minimum production levels in certain product categories just to maintain current grid payouts. And the way that once-dominant wirehouse technology is now struggling to keep pace with the growth of independent technology firms instead. We also talk about the breakaway transition itself, how Michael and his team really did have to resign late on a Friday afternoon, and then spend the weekend frantically calling clients to come with them. The reason he’s chosen to build his client portal around eMoney Advisor and eschew a standard portfolio performance reporting tool like Black Diamond. Why Michael chose to leverage Dynasty Financial as a back-office provider to support the firm, and the unique decision that the firm made to sell off a small slice of its future revenues to create the necessary startup capital to fund the transition and buy out the deferred compensation plans they would lose by leaving Mother Merrill.

And be certain to listen to the end, where Michael compares the ways that the grass is and isn’t greener in the independent channel versus the wirehouse, why most advisors may underestimate the burdens it takes to really be a business owner as an independent, as Michael discovered the hard way when he was forced to rename his brand new firm just a month after launching. And why he would still build his career again in a wirehouse if he was starting over, even though he’s happy so far with the transition he’s made to independence at this juncture of his career.

So whether you’re interested in learning about steps Michael took to affect his breakaway transition, lessons he’s learned along the way, or the pros and cons of being independent, then we hope you enjoy this episode of the “Financial Advisor Success” podcast with Michael Henley.

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