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Recruiter or No Recruiter? That is the Question

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Would Alex Rodriguez have landed his unprecedented $275 million contract with the Yankees without super-agent Scott Boras guiding him along the way? Would Vice President Joseph Biden think about running for President without trusted advisors by his side? 

The obvious answers in these high profile examples are "no," but let's draw a comparison to a top financial advisor who is contemplating moving himself and his sizable book of business to a new firm.  Should this super star advisor use a recruiter to represent his interests?  Does he need to?  After all, he is on the radar of every manager in town and he has friends working at any firm he might consider moving to. 

The question of whether or not a recruiter is needed in cases like this is fair, and one that I hear on a regular basis. 


Today's top recruiters are no longer transactional, job order driven used car salesmen trying to sell you on the deal of the day.  Recruiters who earn the trust of quality advisors are consultative professionals who “seek first to understand, then be understood” as Stephen Covey writes in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.   He or she takes all of the goals, frustrations, and unique information about each individual advisor's business mix and model and uses that to determine a customized set of potential opportunities that could meet the needs of that advisor.  This recruiter is a student of the industry, knows it inside and out, can objectify the pros and cons of any firm or model, and can help the advisor to determine how each solution might move the needle for him.  A good recruiter says "You shouldn't even think about leaving your firm unless you are able to find a solution that is much more than marginally better than where you are now," thus making it comfortable for the advisor to choose to stay put if he doesn't find an opportunity that fits the bill.

With some obvious bias, following are the 10 best reasons for top advisors to use a recruiter:

  1. To streamline a dizzying due diligence process:  Your job as an advisor is to manage your clients' money and to nurture those relationships. The most complex due diligence process can be a full time job and a good recruiter functions as the quarterback so you don’t have to.
  2. To know the entire industry landscape:  Sometimes the best options are not the obvious ones.  The landscape has evolved considerably and top advisors want to know ALL of their options including what it means to be independent, for example, even if they have no intention of heading in that direction.
  3. To gain completely objective information about the pros and cons of each option: The best recruiters are those who work across the entire landscape and can present opportunities with only the advisor’s best interest in mind.
  4. To negotiate the best deal:  Skilled recruiters know what can and can’t be negotiated for.  Their ability to ask for things you may not have thought of, allowing you to remain at arm’s length, can be a tremendous benefit and work to your advantage.
  5. To act as agent advocating for the best interests of the advisor: Good recruiters know everything about an advisor’s business, personal and professional goals for the future, and how to best to bring them to life by identifying appropriate solutions.
  6. To provide spreadsheets, matrices, and other tools:  With an overwhelming number of options to consider and needs to be met, it’s critical to have access to the best resources to help you compare and contrast them.
  7. To protect your confidentiality: Many advisors don’t want to reveal their identities early on in the due diligence process and recruiters can help gather information on their behalf. As advisors move through the due diligence process, allowing a recruiter to maintain the bulk of your connection to another firm ensures your confidentiality.
  8. To ask the right questions:  Advisors know their business, and recruiters know theirs; we know the questions that need to be asked in the due diligence process so that there are no surprises in the end.
  9. To be educated on relevant industry trends:  Whether an advisor chooses to move or not, a recruiter is a wealth of cutting edge, industry knowledge.
  10. To receive a purely value add experience:  Working with a recruiter is a purely upside proposition.  Advisors access a recruiter’s best thinking, time and effort at NO COST – whether or not the advisor decides to make a move.  If they do, there is no negative financial impact on their deal.


Hal is a Northeast based wirehouse advisor managing more than $600 million in high net worth client assets who has been recognized by almost every industry publication as a top advisor.  He is the senior member of a five person team that generates approximately $4.5 million in annual revenue.  After almost 30 years with the same firm – essentially his professional lifetime – Hal began to realize that his firm today no longer resembles the one he joined in the early 1980's. Witnessing more bureaucracy, less control over the client experience, less faith in senior leadership, and an overall disdain for bank ownership, Hal accepted lunch invitations with managers from competing firms.  At first he was glad he did -he learned a lot about the competition, he was gratified to know that the work environment could be different elsewhere, and flattered by the attention. By the time he met with the third firm, he was overwhelmed, confused, and ready to throw in the towel. And, having just learned that one of his closest friends in the industry moved to HighTower Advisors, he realized that there were more quality options to consider beyond just the other wirehouses, but he didn't have the time or inclination to track down the information himself.

Hal had politely accepted my calls over the past decade and appreciated my industry insights, but was always quick to dismiss the suggestion of learning about his options elsewhere. He believed that if he was ever frustrated enough to choose to leave his firm, he could easily pick up the phone, call any manager in town, and negotiate a top deal for himself. But, after his three lunches and a subsequent barrage of follow up calls by each of the managers anxious to woo him, Hal concluded that he owed it to his clients to thoroughly explore his options to determine if there was a better place to serve them. The prospect of the exploration process was daunting and he couldn’t imagine doing it on is own. Although, to that point, my relationship with Hal had historically been largely one sided with me initiating every call, I was pleasantly surprised to receive Hal's call and request for help.  Fast forward six months and with my guidance, Hal has vetted numerous options, both traditional and independent and he has not missed a beat in terms of the growth of his business and servicing his clients.  Although he is still uncertain today if he will leave his firm, he acknowledges that his eyes have been opened, he has a solid Plan B in place, and is seriously considering options that he had never even contemplated a half a year ago.


As more high quality advisors are in play today because of increasing frustrations and retention packages that are closer to being fully amortized, the question is less about where these advisors will wind up and much more about how they will figure out how to get there.  Like “A-Rod,” elite advisors have built highly successful enterprises and they owe it to themselves and their clients to ensure that their interests are being best represented.  By letting a quality recruiter perform a thorough search for you, you can continue to focus on your business, know you are in good hands, trust the process to be confidential, and that the final decision is ultimately yours to make – now from a position of strength.

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