When female financial advisors leave wirehouses, they often gain a sense of self-determination by escaping a male-dominated financial advisory industry.

Kelly Rigas discovered that when she founded KR Wealth Management Group in Dallas, two years ago. To do so, she said goodbye to regional broker-dealer RBC Wealth Management, having worked previously at a number of wirehouses, including Smith Barney, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns.

"I so appreciate being able to write my own story," Rigas says.

Her LPL Financial-affiliated firm expects this summer to hire two additional women, who are former wirehouse advisors.

Other female advisors who have left wirehouses share a "mutual admiration" for each other, Rigas says.

They understand the particular constraints that they left behind, as well as the pressures they endured and survived, she says.

Wirehouses only pay lip service to countering gender disparities and historically undercompensate women compared with men, Rigas says.

She points to the women who in 2010 filed a gender-discrimination class action against Bank of America and its Merrill Lynch unit, and then settled 16 months ago for $39 million.

At one of her wirehouse employers -- not Merrill Lynch -- Rigas served on the women's advisory board. She says she realized that though the firm managers often spoke about hiring more women, they never put the company's wallet behind those pledges.


Rigas also says she prefers women's attitudes about the advisory business over men's.

Female advisors are often "client-centric," Rigas says, and that focus receives less appreciation at the wirehouses, where economic pressures make revenue generation the only focus.

Women also tend to avoid condescending to clients, she says, a scenario she often observed among men at wirehouses.

"We're not assuming, and we're more respectful and more educational with our clients," Rigas says.

With female advisors, work gets done more efficiently than it did in the male-dominated wirehouse world, where water cooler conversation usurped hours, she says.

"We are task-oriented. This is not an identity or a clubhouse," Rigas says.

Rigas doesn't miss the old days; she has dumped the whole channel and is much happier.


Other women in the advisory business, even those who never set foot in wirehouses, prefer the independent sphere where they have found leadership roles.

"Anytime as females we are able to take more control of our own destiny, it comes with a feeling of empowerment, and it opens the creative part of your brain," says Wendy Lanton of Lantern Wealth Advisors in Melville, N.Y.

Lanton, as the compliance officer, serves as one of four on the firm's management team.

Joe Birkofer, a partner at Legacy Asset Management in Houston, has worked both for wirehouses and for independents. He believes that in the independent channel "women have a distinct advantage."


"In the independent channel, it's a new model compared to wirehouses," Birkofer says. The wirehouses' beginnings date back, for the most part, to the early 20th century, he says. In the younger, independent channel, Birkofer says, "There are not institutional structures in place that default to male leadership and male focused culture."

Miriam Rozen is a reporter for Texas Lawyer who writes about financial planning and services.

This story is part of a 30-day series on going independent.

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