A challenging question and one that many wirehouse advisors are asking themselves right now is, should I stay or should I go?
The answer lies in unraveling client, business, personal and financial issues, inextricably intertwined in most contemplated advisors' transitions. However, rarely is this a more difficult choice than where the advisor may face possible termination.
An ill-timed decision could cause an unexpected interruption in the advisor's ability to serve clients and possibly result in unnecessarily harsh language on the Form U5, making future employment more difficult. For these advisors, it is critical to seek guidance from experienced counsel and ask whether they should jump ship or stay put, before the option is no longertheirs to make.
Here are some things to consider:
Involve counsel early. At the very first sign of trouble, advisors should seek legal counsel to assess the seriousness of the situation. Although a meeting with local management may not seem out of the ordinary, the situation may be escalating beyond the local branch or even beyond the firm's employees, such as to the firm’s outside counsel. Counsel that has experience with broker recruitment matters can objectively read the signs that risk of termination may be tipping the scale. In some cases, this provides the advisor the ability to tender a voluntary resignation as a preemptive measure.
Don't have false expectations. During any investigation, firm managers often tell the advisor simply to tell the truth, assuring that everything will be fine. Advice such as this can be disarming and misleading with the intention to provide advisors with a false sense of security. During these investigative meetings, the advisor will often have a sense from the scope, frequency and particularly from those in attendance whether it is safe to stay or time to go.
Understand the risks. What would have resulted in heightened supervision or even a letter in an advisor's personnel file two years ago may now result in sudden termination. It is critical that an advisor understand industry trends and even the historical behavior of the employing firm to determine whether to make a move.
Prepare a contingency plan. An advisor's best protection is to pack a parachute: Facilitate a soft landing, just in case an expedient exit should become necessary. It is always better to prepare. Pack a parachute and hope to never have to use it, rather than jump (or be pushed) without one.
Of late, it seems that more firms choose termination as their remedy after an advisor's misstep, citing regulatory scrutiny. Advisors should be prepared to take the steps necessary to protect the careers that they have worked so hard to build.
And when faced with having to decide whether to stay or go, advisors must be prepared to make the best decision under the circumstances and not let those parachutes slip out from under their suit jackets.
Sharron Ash is the chief litigation counsel at MarketCounsel in Englewood, N.J.
This story is part of a 30-day series on going independent.