In years past, mergers and acquisitions among independent financial advisers were predominantly a prelude to succession — advisers nearing retirement were looking to take their money off the table and ride off into the sunset. Meanwhile, switching affiliations to another firm was a different animal altogether — less driven by retirement plans than a desire to change the scenery to a new broker-dealer or RIA that better fit the adviser’s needs.
No more. Driven by a need for growth, firms that historically had different growth strategies are now competing for the same adviser. This competition for high-quality financial advisers and advisory firms, combined with an insatiable thirst for growth, is creating more choices for advisers as to both whom they partner with and how they choose to structure that relationship.
For their part, advisers — whether they are close to retirement or not — increasingly view the strategic decisions they make on the ownership and affiliation of their practices primarily through the lens of growth — how to get bigger, increase resources to invest in the business and ultimately command more scale. In their thinking, what matters most is finding the right partner, and the approach they take in getting to the size they want to be — whether it’s an M&A transaction, a new affiliation or a combination of both — follows from there.
In today’s wealth management industry, we have reached a moment at which M&A and recruiting, long seen as separate silos, are coalescing in deals that would not have been contemplated even 10 years ago. It is an environment rife with opportunity for strategic, growth-minded financial advisers. As they mull the options before them, they should consider the following:
It used to be a binary situation — either M&A with another practice or aggregator, or being recruited to a new RIA or IBD. Increasingly transactions are combining elements of both, and advisers should be flexible on structuring deals if doing so means they’ll be able to reach their goals more easily.
It’s not uncommon, for example, to see recruitments that have provisions that pave the way for a change of ownership, or to see major broker-dealers acquiring RIAs, either directly or through side entities created for that specific purpose.
On the other side, we’re also seeing RIA firms starting to look a lot like a regional broker-dealers in terms of structure and payout as they strive to differentiate themselves in the recruiting market.
Here the motivations of RIAs and IBDs can’t be discounted. They are, after all, under their own pressure to grow — whether it’s from private equity owners or public markets — and have real incentives to insert themselves into M&A and succession discussions.
The bottom line: The variety of ways in which a deal is structured is really limited only by the imaginations of participants and their willingness to embrace new ways to come together that, though they may seem unusual at first blush, can potentially lead to bigger growth than traditional M&A or recruiting.
The caveat for advisers discussing these transitions is that they should be ready for negotiations to be more complex than in traditional M&A or recruiting deals. Why? Because with the line between mergers and acquisitions and recruiting, deals are taking on the complexities of both. Advisers should evaluate whether they want to engage in a potentially more time- and resource-intensive process to get to where they want to be.
Before financial advisers start discussions with M&A and recruitment partners in earnest, they should go through a detailed process in which they discern what their strategic goals and priorities are and, just as important, what trade-offs they are willing to accept for the opportunity to grow the business.
A transition, whether it involves M&A or recruitment, potentially can result in fundamental changes in how the business operates that have impacts for the adviser and for clients. Are independent advisers accustomed to being the captains of their own ships ready to have to answer to a higher corporate power? And will clients accept changes in their advisory experience or increases in costs to them?
To be sure, there are benefits to transitioning — advisers wouldn’t be considering it were there not. That said, at the same time they start thinking about the benefits of a transition, whatever form it takes, they should be considering what they would potentially compromise on. Preferably this self-discernment should occur before actual discussions start, so the temptation of a check on the table doesn’t unduly sway them.
GROWTH IS KING
As two people who have been around the wealth management industry for decades, we have seen trends come and go. The current strategic shift among financial advisers toward growth at all costs seems to be here to stay, and it’s accompanied by a trend toward deals that combine aspects of both M&A and recruitment.
The goal in these deals, of course, is to find the end state that will create the most value for all involved. Until deals are finalized, transitioning advisers hold the keys to the car. They should, by all means, explore these new deal structures — the benefits of growth are plain to see and difficult to ignore. That said, they should understand what they are getting into. In the end, this will benefit all parties.
Larry Roth is founder and managing partner of RLR Strategic Partners, an affiliate of Berkshire Global Advisors, and the lead independent director of Kingswood Acquisition Corp., a publicly registered special purpose acquisition company.
Jeff Nash is founder and CEO of BridgeMark Strategies, an advisor transitions firm for the independent wealth management space, and partner and co-founder of Ignition Point Partners.
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