Any financial advisor contemplating a move wants to find the best possible situation for clients, along with the personal satisfaction of being happy to come into work each day.  Here are four key questions all advisors should ask before they join a new firm.

1. Is the firm really committed to the business?  Given the shifting competitive environment, you must ask: Is this firm really committed to the wealth management/ brokerage business in your particular market?  They’ll all tell you they are, but you need to see the actual evidence.  What percentage of revenue and profits does wealth management represent?  Is it a significant part of the total, or just an afterthought?

Equally important: How much of those revenues is management willing to plow back into the business to pay for systems and support?  Today at Morgan Stanley, I can open my computer, quickly identify all of my clients who own a particular security, and send them both proprietary and third-party research at the push of a button.  I couldn’t do that before.  Clients love seeing these analyses, and it makes them much more receptive to an investment idea. 

2. What resources will support your transition?  Let’s face it, there’s going to be paperwork – lots of it – particularly if you have a fair amount of international clients.  Your first day in the office, you and your assistant have no idea how the systems work. So what do you do?  A good firm might assign a SWAT team to help out – people right there beside you to answer every question and take you through the processes as many times as necessary, until you and your team learn them. Having these resources available right there in the branch – not via phone from some remote voice – is critical. At Morgan, it was a key reason why we were able to bring over around 85% of our clients’ assets within the first six weeks.  We made it as easy as possible for them, and clients like that.

3. Will the new platform provide optimal support for your particular practice? Before you move, understand clearly whether you’ll have access to the right products to support what you do.  I work with a large endowment that can purchase only products that have been approved by an in-house consultant.  I was able to call one of our institutional desks and explain what I needed, and almost immediately they were able to come up with a list of 10 products that were approved by the consultant. Make sure that you will have similar support at your new firm.

4. What’s the real feel of the place?  Of course there is a financial aspect to every move, but I found that the big firms all have offers that are pretty close. Make sure the deal structure is realistic. Bringing in assets takes some time, so you need to make sure you have a realistic chance of hitting your hurdles and growing your business.

Beyond the financial, what the place actually feels like really does matter.  What does the office look like – is it tidy and businesslike, or do things look worn and neglected?  Does branch management talk with you regularly or just disappear after the deal is done? Do your coworkers come into work with a pleasant demeanor and an attitude of, “Let’s get some business done – how can I help you?”

Remember, this is a place where you’re going to spend a good chunk of your waking hours, so the culture matters.

A 26-year industry veteran, Financial Advisor Albert Dishner joined Morgan Stanley’s 1290 Avenue of the Americas branch in New York City from Credit Suisse in July.

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