For nearly seven years, we operated as a fast-growing office of supervisory jurisdiction (OSJ), one that had created a destination for scores of breakaway advisors. But when we decided last year to establish a hybrid, multicustodial RIA while jettisoning our existing model, it was time to eat our own cooking.
Operating captive to a single platform no longer gave us the control and flexibility we needed. Furthermore, we found ourselves competing with the very platform in place to serve us. We wanted the freedom to build a firm that was truly ours, better tailored to our dozens of advisor teams composed of independent entrepreneurs.
We knew this kind of evolution would be complicated, even in the best of circumstances and the fact that we were obliged to rapidly accelerate our carefully laid plans made the process even more challenging. Decisions were made by our former broker-dealer that forced us to move away from a model that would have supported a more gradual transition over time, compressing a marathon into a 60-day sprint.
Trust us when we say it’s hard to turn on a dime and completely restructure a business, asking your partners to uproot their livelihoods amid competition and a tumultuous market environment. Furthermore, we had nothing in place — no custodian, no tech stack, and a home office team trained to operate on a BD platform with little to no RIA experience. Convincing our advisors to take this leap of faith required a clear vision and a foundation of trust built through years in the trenches. More importantly, it required adaptability and resilience from all involved.
In the end, we pulled it off. We learned a lot along the way, relied on strategic partners, and, most importantly, successfully upgraded our platform and ability to objectively serve our clients. Even though the road to restructuring as an RIA was bumpier than we expected, it was always one we intended to follow. Here are our biggest takeaways from the process.
Be willing to change everything
And I mean everything. We learned fast that running an OSJ has very little overlap with operating a fully independent RIA. As an OSJ we relied heavily on our broker-dealer to provide technology and middle office support — we were limited to what they listed on the menu.
We were now forced to curate and, more importantly, to support the technology we were providing. We became the concierge service team, the investment due diligence team and provider of the platform. From a supervisory standpoint, gone was the backstop that was our broker-dealer. The stakes were immediately higher, and our team needed to embrace change if we were to successfully make this pivot. In launching the RIA, we now became the “house.” We resorted to finding other ways to add value, focusing on business consulting, practice management, transition support and M&A.
Learn to overcommunicate
To manage this shift, we also added key members to the leadership team who had experience in the space. We overhauled our org chart, moving our 37 home office team members into areas that fit their strengths while solving for the needs of the business. This meant some roles were no longer needed. As you can imagine, keeping employees motivated through a reorganization that involves layoffs is incredibly difficult. Throughout the process, as we do with our advisors, we utilized constant and transparent communication delivered by trusted managers empowered to make decisions. We built credibility through competency. Installing the right individuals on our leadership team gave our employees the capacity to stretch their abilities and grow into their roles in an RIA.
I want to touch on what “constant and transparent” communication looks like in practice. As soon as we began our transition to an RIA, we set up weekly town-hall-style meetings to explain what was happening. We drafted communications that advisors could share with their clients. We put together a working group of advisors to tell us what worried them and what they wanted to see as the RIA took shape.
As the pieces of our new tech stack fell into place, we went to our advisors’ offices to show them the new tools they would have at their disposal.
From vendor to partner
Ultimately if you make a huge change to your business, you need to give advisors a reason to follow you. Independent advisors don’t take kindly to following processes and restrictions dictated from on high — that’s why so many advisors break away from other channels to begin with! To make this kind of business transition work, everyone needs to be engaged and involved.
We learned that advisors don’t expect all the answers but want to know they had a voice and that we had a plan. If you are truly aligned to your vision and the right people are in the right roles, everyone gets the resources they need to grow. In our case, we relied on the partnership program which we have employed to great effect since 2021: We acquire minority noncontrolling stakes in our affiliated firms in exchange for cash and equity in our firm.
As an RIA, we doubled down on this concept, expanding our advisor equity pool to allow our independent offices to further take part in our shared success. The mingling of equity showed our tangible reliance on one another, transforming the relationship with our teams from that of a vendor to that of a partner.
Would I recommend someone else try to form an RIA in 60 days? Absolutely not! Having 90 days would have made things a little easier. But we know this industry’s future relies on independent wealth management centered on the uniquely human strengths of financial advisors. To get there, we had to be willing to let go of the OSJ model and embrace change, even if that meant short-term pain.