To quote a cigarette commercial from back in the day, the financial advisory profession has come a long way, baby. Great, but now what?
During the past 40 years or so, independent registered investment advisors have won a growing share of the hearts and dollars from an investing public increasingly yearning for holistic financial advice and not just stock picks. And as RIAs have taken a bigger slice of the business, traditional brokerages have responded to some extent by upping their game in the comprehensive financial advice department.
But as the 21st century enters the midway point of its second decade, the profession seems to be at a transitional tipping point.
The advisor workforce is aging and not enough new faces are entering the business. Baby boomer clients who grew up financially with their baby boomer advisors, and whose assets provided the foundation for many advisor firms, will eventually give way to younger clients who have different ideas about what the client-advisor relationship should look like. And rapidly changing technology is enabling brokers to cut ties with their mother ship and go independent, while letting advisors of all stripes unshackle themselves from their wood-paneled office and work remotely from wherever the heck they want, leading to the rise of the “lifestyle practice.”
A brave new world is shaping up for the profession, which in 20 years could look significantly different than today’s advisory model.
“The near future is more of an evolution, while the far future is more of a revolution,” says Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions. “The far future is 20 years out, because by then we should have had a wholesale turnover of the current generation of financial advisors to the next generation. In the short term, I don’t think that development will be perceptible. But by the time this wholesale change occurs, I think the way we do business, what clients will look like and how advisor firms will look will be quite different.”
Some advisors are itching for tomorrow to start today. “I hope we lose the 200,000 financial advisors over the next 10 years that everyone keeps talking about [as the older generation leaves the business] because it could let us push the reset button to get new energy into the industry,” says Alan Moore, 26, founder of Serenity Financial Consulting. “In my opinion, innovation on the financial planning side will come out of new firms because they don’t have a pre-existing structure and they’re free to do things in a new way.”
In many ways, Moore embodies the new wave of Gen Y advisors—tech-savvy, imbued with a sense of purpose and confident they’re at the vanguard of a changing industry.
In Moore’s case, he was fired from his prior job at a successful RIA firm in Wisconsin because he felt it wasn’t moving fast enough into the future. “I was a pain-in-the-ass employee because I wanted to do things how I wanted to do them, which was tough to do within an established firm,” he says.
After the sting of his firing wore off, Moore talked to people, did some soul searching and concluded he could go it alone. He and his wife fell in love with Bozeman, Mont., but there’s not a big market for financial planning there. But there is in Wisconsin, so Moore set up shop in Milwaukee (with a satellite office in Bozeman) with the intent of attracting clients, getting them used to working with him in a virtual relationship, and then moving full time to Montana and keeping Milwaukee as the satellite location.
“I structured the technology and marketing of the firm with the intention of moving it,” Moore says, noting that creating a virtual office is key to his plans. “I’m amazed by how many advisors refuse to meet with clients other than face-to-face,” Moore says. “It’s an incredibly inefficient way to do business. The use of free video technology has a dramatic effect on clients because they don’t have to drive into the office. Once I have a client do a virtual meeting, I can’t get them back into the office.”
Moore uses Google Hangouts and Skype for video conferencing and a screen-sharing service called join.me for online meetings. Among the online software tools he uses to help run his business are EchoSign and DocuSign, which let advisors e-mail documents to clients that they can sign electronically.