To say that being a branch manager has lost some of its luster is an understatement.
Demands are greater, resources have dwindled, the post-merger wirehouse cultures are a poor fit and the number of opportunities has shrunk as the wirehouse world has done likewise.
"That's probably the role in all the major firms that is getting squeezed the hardest right now," says Chris Dupuy, a managing director at Focus Financial Partners and a former executive at Merrill Lynch.
Following the example of breakaway advisors, some branch managers have left wirehouses to found independent firms.
But those thinking of taking the plunge must have a plan, lest the entrepreneurial venture become a misadventure, experts say.
Any branch manager thinking of starting a firm must first consider finances.
"You have to have the patience and capital to take six or eight months to build something," says Tony Sirianni, a former wirehouse branch manager who helped found two independent firms and runs a consulting company.
Moreover, those who give up a paycheck to become their own bosses need a way to support themselves and their families.
Branch managers must also get advisors on board immediately.
"The biggest challenge for [branch managers]: Do you believe that you can attract people into this model?" asks Glenn Fischer, who was at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and later founded New York Wealth Management, an independent firm affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services.
"I wanted good producers who put the client first and who were in a growth mode and therefore could help us grow this company," says Fischer, who says his firm has 15 advisors, overseeing more than $1 billion in assets.
But remember that the advisors are being asked to take a risk and join a start-up, Dupuy says.
"My experience is that a lot of branch managers tend to overestimate their ability to have advisors in their office today come join them," he says.
Advisors will want to see an office, a platform and support from a real custodian.
"The first thing you want to show the advisor coming from Merrill Lynch or Morgan Stanley, is look what we have," says Fischer, who notes that he invested heavily in technology.
A branch manager going independent must be willing to adapt to new technologies or practices, Sirianni says.
"You can't just say you're an entrepreneur; you really have to be one," he says.
Finally, branch managers must be aware of legal and regulatory hurdles.
They must review the contract to see if there are restrictions on recruiting advisors at the old office, says Sharron Ash, chief litigation counsel at MarketCounsel, which helps advisors and branch managers go independent.
And even those who think the broker protocol will protect them when recruiting former employees or teammates should consult legal counsel.
Finally, beware of setting up a firm while still working for the current firm, as that might run afoul of rules about disclosing outside business activities, Ash says.
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