Breakaways Need Allies

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Breaking away from wirehouses has never been easy. But the leap of faith to independence demands a lot more work for advisors than it did even a few years ago.

I don’t say this to discourage breakaways. It’s not possible to turn back the clock on the mass exodus toward the RIA channel even if we wanted to. Years of economic volatility and a pandemic have not dislodged the desire of advisors to strike out on their own. In fact, Cerulli Associates predicts independent and hybrid-channel RIAs will capture nearly a third of the intermediary asset market share by 2027. The appeal of running one's own business, the flexibility of organizational structures, and the higher payout percentages compared to wirehouses and IBDs are all hard to ignore.

But a breakaway in 2024 needs to keep a lot more plates spinning than 10 or even 5 years ago. The drive to go independent mostly came from ditching the conflict-laden, commission-based model at wirehouses. The value proposition to clients was, “I'll charge you a fee, not a commission based on specific products, and I’ll do wonders with your investments.”

But investors want more than just investment management. Robos have long since made that a commodity. Even financial planning, as complex and dynamic as it is, has become table stakes for modern investors. People want family office-style service: college planning, insurance, risk, tax planning, all in a cohesive experience. It’s a tall order for a sole practitioner to be all things to all people.

Advisor tech promises solutions for a lot of these problems. But it demands a learning curve from advisors, just like anything else. Even the best financial planning software can be difficult to use without experience. Just because you can buy a car doesn’t mean you know how to drive it.