2010 could be dubbed “The Year of Opportunity” for independent advisors if the current market environment continues. Just consider how the stars have aligned: Wall Street is bogged down by massive mergers, bankruptcies and scandal. According to Cerulli analysts, Baby Boomers entering retirement represent an estimated $1.8 trillion in rollover asset opportunity over the next five years.Independent, fee-based, objective advice is in high demand and may continue to increase in demand if regulatory reform results in a move to adopt a higher standard of care.
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As small business owners, many independent investment advisors don’t have a board of directors to help set strategy or vet ideas. But one promising area that can help is study groups.
While not a new idea, study groups can be an excellent way for independent firms to share best practices, bounce ideas off peers with similar business models, and compare financials, technology and operating issues. Similar to the function of corporate board of directors, study groups can also help independent advisors find solutions for tough organizational and HR problems while they grow their firms and take advantage of current opportunities.
Study groups can offer high return for low cost. For example, the interaction with like-minded – and more important, not like-minded advisors – can be very energizing and motivating, and can provide a sense of community. Additionally, discussing current topics keeps advisors informed and on the cutting edge of creating and offering value to their client relationships.
When you’re looking to join or start a study group, our experience in working with hundreds of advisors is that there are a few areas that are critical to success.
First, study groups need to have clearly articulated goals, objectives and agendas so there is focus and equal participation. I can’t stress enough how important equal participation is. You must be willing to share your ideas and things that are working well for you in addition to learning from your peers.
The ideal size is roughly 12-15 members, to provide variety, but not so large that it becomes difficult to manage. A meeting schedule needs to be frequent enough, but not so overwhelming that it causes burnout. Our recommendation is to meet for a full day once a quarter. Another consideration for creating an optimal study group is to work with other successful advisors who will challenge you and hold you accountable for actions to improve your practice.
And finally, it is critical to have a very high level of trust among all members in order to promote open sharing of ideas and advice. It’s not a bad idea to have geographically dispersed members so there’s no fear of competition, but I would argue that a local study group could be just as effective. There is enough money out there and most advisors offer such different services and investment approaches that the perceived competition doesn’t actually exist.
While study groups can help in times of growth, they can also be a powerful way to help you manage during times of contraction. By providing support, guidance and benchmarks for your firm, they can help you evaluate the difficult decisions that you may face in challenging markets, such as staffing levels and client management.
If you are interested in joining or starting a study group, some familiar places to start would be to simply ask other successful advisors you admire, network at professional groups and associations such as the Financial Planning Association, which has resources to support various communities of interest. Other places to look include your custodian, fund company or other vendors that service large numbers of advisors.
The opportunity of a generation awaits independent firms – look to your peers to help you get there.
George Tamer, Director, Strategic Relationships, TD AMERITRADE Institutional
TD AMERITRADE, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC/NFA. This is not an offer or solicitation in any jurisdiction where we are not authorized to do business. Past performance of a security does not guarantee future results. All investments are subject to investment risk, including possible loss of the principal invested.