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'My Office Has Closed. Now What?'

As big firms consolidate, more and more local branch offices are closing—and advisors are wondering what their options are.

One of the lasting legacies of the pandemic is that firms are looking at ways to save money and, as a result, are consolidating some branches and shuttering others entirely.

It’s a situation that’s left advisors returning to the office post lockdown are looking at commutes that are likely far longer and/or more challenging than pre-pandemic.

As one advisor in the suburbs of Philadelphia told me, “For 20 years I traveled less than 10 miles to the office. Last month the firm decided to close that branch and transition us to a larger space in the city. Now my commute has doubled in mileage, but even worse is the traffic and lost time that comes with it. And I have to wonder how my local clients will respond to the change.”

Another advisor shared that she typically walked just a few blocks to her office in New York City. When her firm announced that advisors should return to work in the office, she also received notice that she would now be working out of a less desirable location across town. She’s not thrilled about the change—and feels like this is just one more part of her business life that she’s lost control over.

But, beyond the inconvenience factor, many advisors worry that changes like these are yet another sign that profitability is taking precedent over people… and what might be next.

No doubt these folks are feeling like they’re caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they’re invested in the business they built and the firm they work for. While on the other, if they’re being forced to box up their belongings anyway, this might be the right time to consider proactively choosing where they’ll unpack them.

So these advisors are finding that they have some decisions to make. Do they:

Accept reality as it is and follow the firm to the new, albeit possibly less ideal, office.

While it may not be the best answer, it is the path of least resistance. You could also investigate whether the firm has another location in your area—or continue to work remotely for as long as the firm will allow and bide your time to decide what the best next step will be.

Explore other employee options that may already offer, or are willing to open, a location that’s more convenient.

Regional firms, like Raymond James, Stifel and RBC, are seeing larger firms’ desire to get smaller as an opportunity to build their ranks. These firms recognize that remote working actually worked and, as such, are expanding their footprints and opening offices in “bedroom communities” and other new markets where they once didn’t exist—and, in some cases, are demonstrating more flexibility in work-from-home options. And for the right advisors, even boutique firms like Rockefeller could have an appetite to open in a smaller or secondary market.

Consider an independent option, with greater freedom and control, which would allow freedom to choose an optimal office location.

Working-from-home was an eye-opener for many advisors, who came to appreciate the greater agency they had over their businesses and work lives. It's led them to question the value their firms provided. As such, we saw an uptick in advisors choosing independence – building their own firms or opting to join established independent models – and designing their businesses as they desire, including where to office.

For big firms, the net effect of “thinking smaller” has left many advisors feeling like it’s just one more battle of control they’ve lost. Yet for smaller firms, it’s become an opportunity to “think bigger,” but with greater flexibility and better alignment to a once again evolved advisor mindset.

Ultimately, it’s those firms, and advisors, who swiftly realize that there’s no going back to the way it was that will come out ahead.

Mindy Diamond is 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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