When I told a friend of mine who works in the registered investment adviser world that my team and I were breaking away from the wirehouse channel to start our own business, she texted me back.
“Are you ready?” she said. I asked her what I was in for.
“Give it a few months,” she said.
There are a lot of people who’ll tell you that breaking away was the best thing that happened to their careers. Many of them will generously share the sense of fulfillment they feel being a bigger part of a smaller business and the resources that helped them along the way. But almost no one tells you the initial workload will be breezy and stress-free!
Those first “few months” were some of the hardest, most nerve-wracking, and stressful experiences of my professional life. And you know what? I would absolutely, 100% do it again in a heartbeat.
You don’t often hear from the team members beyond the lead advisers in big industry moves. Yet we’re the ones who get down to business after the big news splash. We handle the mountains of paperwork, forms and signatures needed as clients move from our former employers to our new business. And I’ll be real with you, “transition” is not the word I’d pick for it.
Those first few months are the ultimate test for every single client relationship your team has cultivated over the years. From the perspective of your clients, a breakaway move comes out of nowhere,since you can’t give them a heads-up in advance. Yet now you have one chance to show them why you started your own firm and most importantly, how they will be better off. Meanwhile, your former employer will do everything that it can to keep the relationships you built and strengthened over many years, or even decades.
You spring this conversation on a person or family who has entrusted you with their financial futures, and then you have to ask, “Are you with me?” It’s a moment of truth that makes your palms sweat, no matter how confident you are in the relationship. Now repeat this step as many times as you have clients, and you begin to see where the stress comes from. We invest a lot of professional pride in these relationships. It’s nerve-wracking to learn, one call at a time, how much faith your clients really have in what you can do for them.
They will challenge you, and they’re right to do so. “If you’re a fiduciary now,” they’ll ask, “what were you before?” You need to believe in your team, have certainty in your vision and have great endurance to transition your clients over weeks of long hours. If you’re looking to break away this year, here’s what I want you to know.
Don’t give up, but don’t stop moving forward. It hurts when clients don’t make the jump to independence with you right away. It’s hard not to take it personally. Give yourself space to shed tears and keep going. That doesn’t mean you should back down if a client challenges you to defend the move. Some of our clients who pressed us the hardest have become our most solid relationships in our independent practice. They wanted to make sure that their finances were in good hands and that we were doing the right thing for them. I respect them for doing their research; we certainly did ours!
Focus on how your clients will benefit. There are a lot of really good reasons to go independent, but your clients aren’t going to care about back-office headaches. Disagreements over pay structure or difficulty getting approvals for infrastructure needs may matter a lot to you, but your clients need to hear how they are better off with your newfound independence.
Find support everywhere you can. We’re fortunate at Vardhan to have made the breakaway decision as a team. This business is part of all of us; we were involved in everything, from building the website and setting up the office, down to selecting the name, messaging, logo and custodian. I can’t imagine being this excited about building the foundation of an independent practice if the entire team were not involved.
The support of professional partners enabled us to put our hearts and souls into the client transition. Our partners at Summit Financial helped us find the right vendors and solutions to build what we had envisioned. And while every breakaway path is different, after those few months of stress, I feel incredibly proud and energized at what we have accomplished. It’s a journey worth taking, and one I would take again without hesitation.
Renee Wahl is the director of operations at Vardhan Wealth Management.
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.