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When Is It Too Late to Go Independent?

Many advisors wonder if they’ve reached an age when independence is just a bridge too far.
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As work lives have changed and the industry landscape continues to expand, it’s left many seasoned advisors to wonder how they can have greater freedom, flexibility and control over their businesses. However, many believe it may be too late for them to even consider it.

No one wants to make their life more challenging as they edge closer to retirement. But as brokerage firms continually look for ways to lock down the remaining years of their senior advisors’ careers via enhanced sunset programs, these folks are beginning to reconsider their options before they sign on the dotted line.

Even as the independent space has grown to offer a wide variety of support and options to make the leap more manageable, many advisors ask: “Am I too old to go independent?”

It’s really not about age. We’ve found that there are a few key characteristics shared by those who take the leap:

  • They had at least a five- to seven-year time horizon left to work so that they could make up for the money left on the table (by not taking a transition deal from another traditional firm or leveraging their own firm’s sunset program).
  • They really believed in their ability to migrate their clients and grow.
  • They had strong next-gen talent.
  • They were “long-term greedy.”
  • And they really wanted it.

Most important, these advisors ultimately felt that they could better serve their clients and their legacy by breaking away from their firm.

Consider Herman Rij, who at 70 years of age with over 40 years under his belt at Merrill Lynch, made the leap with his team to form independent firm Quadrant Private Wealth. Jason Cort, one of the firm’s founding partners, told me in a podcast interview that Rij would “clearly acknowledge that his life over the past few years would have been easier had we simply stayed at Merrill … but I think he’s more invigorated by the work today … it’s been more worthwhile for him, and he’s extremely glad he did what he did, as we all are.”

Take Steve Maconi, who was with Merrill for over three decades and left the wirehouse in 2018 to form Brandywine Oak Private Wealth. Michael Henley, CEO of the RIA firm, said that for Maconi and the rest of the team, the decision was about doing what was right for the clients and, ultimately, “being happy.”

A growing roster of turnkey models—along with the ability to “design” one’s own sunset plan—has made independence the destination of choice for many high-quality advisors and teams—no matter their age, amount of AUM or type of business.

Yet, there are many advisors who may have entertained the idea of going independent but ultimately decided not to, and it wasn’t their age that most frequently stopped someone from following their dreams. These advisors said it came down to these two factors:

  1. The pain of staying wasn’t great enough—and they were able to serve their clients and grow their business “well enough” at the wirehouse.
  2. They were ultimately “more comfortable” recommitting to the status quo, likely in exchange for the monetary incentive of their firm’s sunset program.

While the path of least resistance is to stay with a single firm for the entirety of one’s career, we’re hearing more and more from those who feel it just “isn’t what it used to be.” For these advisors, the adage that “it’s never too late” bears some truth—and with a new view gained through the work-from-home experience, many will likely see things a bit differently from here on out.

Mindy Diamond is president and 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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