In the last several years, investors have increasingly turned to virtual environments to engage with their professional partners, checking account balances, initiating trades and carrying out complex financial transactions all online. As the pandemic took hold, the trends shifted significantly toward an all-digital world, and it appears the RIA industry is embracing the new normal as well.
While the online environment offers many perks and efficiencies, it creates vulnerabilities among those who use it. In 2019, over 60 percent of compromised data originated in financial services organizations, according to research from Bitglass, a cloud security firm. This number has alarmed many, and the SEC is proactively working to mitigate the risk with increased scrutiny in its examination of financial services firms.
October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, and the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency-sponsored initiative presents the opportunity to assess your cybersecurity plan. Advisors need to take action to protect their practices and their clients, and there are some basic steps advisors should follow to ensure they are well prepared.
- Establish policies and procedures – RIAs must establish specific rules and requirements for staff around cybersecurity measures, including what team members should and should not do with regard to data. This cybersecurity guide should be customized to the firm and include checklists and best practices for the team’s standard workflow and any specialized needs. The rules and procedures for a small shop that relies on administrative staff for support will look quite different than for a larger team with dedicated client-facing personnel. However your team decides to manage the policies, it is smart to provide a copy for all team members so they have quick access moving forward.
- Assess your third-party vendors – It is not enough to have your own policies and procedures in place; RIAs need to assess the processes their partners and vendors follow too. Part of the vetting process should include a vendor review template that touches on key areas including the following: Has the vendor completed penetration testing? Have they experienced a data breach? Do they have cybersecurity certifications? Do their emails use proper encryption? Who has access to the data? How is the data protected? Advisors must take care to assess these high-level risk factors before engaging with an outside partner.
- Educate your team (and do it often) – Even the most iron-clad plans can be compromised by simple human error. Often, data breaches and security threats come down to phishing emails or scams and personnel who don’t know what to do. Even seemingly innocuous practices — like setting up your laptop in the local coffee shop while waiting for a meeting or leaving your computer unlocked while you run to the office kitchen — can create significant risk for the firm. It is essential that your team is smart about daily business activities and remains updated on the latest threats.
- Assess your vulnerabilities with stress testing – Any firm can go through simple cybersecurity training and check a box. However, the firms that will be most successful in protecting their clients and their practice are those who undergo stress testing and realistic data breach simulations. For example, conduct random phishing attacks and penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities and address them in real time. In addition, look for a partner who can provide guidance on what other RIAs have experienced and how they have successfully adjusted their approach to safeguard their data.
- Have your post-breach action plan ready – While the above steps will help mitigate your risk of a cyberattack, the reality is data breaches happen to even the most prepared among us. RIA practice leaders need to have an action plan that’s leveraged in the event of a data breach. This includes a detailed outline of next steps, specifically how the system is disabled; a communication timeline for alerting partners and clients; contacts at your technology and security partners; and more. It can even go as far as detailing client-facing offerings like credit monitoring services to help clients feel safe following an attack.
Don’t Forget to Share With Your Clients
Creating a cybersecurity action plan is an essential business practice in today’s environment, and the moves you take to protect your firm matter to your clients too. They want to know you are taking every precaution to safeguard their information and data. Let them know the work your firm is doing to educate and train the team, how you are vetting vendors and partners, and what your plans are in the event of a security breach. Such action adds value to your relationship with clients.
Our Commitment to the Network
Technology has become central to our lives, and as more people work remotely and conduct daily activities online, the network will become overwhelmed. It is essential to partner with a cybersecurity organization that can protect you as hackers become more sophisticated and adapt to our current environment. You want to feel confident that you have the right partner to support your firm.
Our team recognized an opportunity to fortify our cybersecurity practices, and within the last year, we began the process of reviewing different cybersecurity partners. Clients trust us with their most confidential information, and it is critical that advisors are confident in their ability to keep this data safe. We ultimately decided to engage with Align Cybersecurity, the premier global provider of technology infrastructure solutions, to keep our team up to date on the latest trends, innovations and news in the space. We are dedicated to sharing this information within our network so you are equipped to make informed decisions for your practice too.
We are continuing to spotlight the importance of cybersecurity during Cybersecurity Awareness Month and beyond. Be sure to check back for an exclusive Q&A on our blog with John Araneo, our virtual Chief Information Security Officer and Managing Director, Cybersecurity and General Counsel of Align. In the meantime, connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter for our latest insight and team updates.
This year is presenting unprecedented challenges for financial advisors, with the pandemic impacting businesses of all sizes, the election and market volatility spooking investors, and Schwab’s acquisition of TD Ameritrade forcing change in the brokerage model. We are engaged with financial advisors every day, both in and outside of our GVA network, who are closely monitoring current events. These items weigh heavily on advisors, and the conversation often comes back to one thing: giving greater consideration to transitioning to an independent model.
While it may seem counterintuitive amid mounting uncertainty, the current environment is quite favorable for advisors considering the move to independent. The benefits of making this move are expansive, and our recent blog post with several members of the GVA network provides an initial perspective on their motivating factors for going independent. We strive to facilitate a seamless process for advisors who join our network, but GVA advisors aren’t the only ones pleased with the career decision. In fact, a 2019 survey from Charles Schwab found a whopping 90 percent of advisors who transitioned to the independent model had no regrets about doing so.
In an environment of uncertainty, reevaluating how you run your business stands to be impactful. Approaching your clients with a forward-looking plan — one with direct benefit to their financial life and goals — shows you are staying current and always looking out for their best interests. The post-pandemic era will favor independent advisors, and the following factors will be increasingly important for financial professionals in 2021 and beyond:
Flexibility needs to be woven into your business model
There is value in having the flexibility to run a practice the way you want to, and transitioning to independent allows you to gain control of your business model. When you run your own operation, you can make necessary advancements whenever you see fit. Gaining the flexibility to work with the people, products and strategies you want yields a better business structure. This is especially true in today’s environment; advisors need to be flexible in their decision-making processes to be more proactive versus reactive. This type of flexibility is crucial to growing your business.
Access to the right technology can make or break a practice
The pandemic has prompted many businesses to shift their operations to a digital platform, which has placed an increased emphasis on practice management technology. To be effective in today’s environment, advisors need access to top-tier technology solutions.
Many advisors are inclined to stay in the brokerage model because of the technology available through those channels. In reality, aligning with the right partner to go independent bypasses these concerns. GVA has invested heavily in technology and forged partnerships with industry-leading solutions providers to ensure our advisors have the ability to build the practice as they see fit. Advisors can run a successful independent practice with the confidence that they have the appropriate technology for their clients.
Asset gathering will be more important than ever
Data from Schwab’s 2020 RIA Benchmarking Study found that higher-net-worth investors favor the independent model. This is noteworthy, as it points to the fact that investors recognize the difference an independent shop offers, particularly when it comes to investment options.
Independent advisors can make decisions that are in the best interest of their clients. They are no longer obligated to offer proprietary products just because of their proximity to them. This makes for a more robust client experience.
The right support will harness growth potential
Advisors should always be growing. If you find yourself stagnant — or alternatively, if you are growing rapidly and are overwhelmed — it’s time to consider a change. In both scenarios, advisors can benefit from a strategic partner. Whether you need additional compliance oversight, more support or a wider range of resources, partnering with an RIA in the independent space could help you harness growth. Even the biggest and most successful offices need help to streamline processes. When it comes to growing or managing your growth, partnering with a strong RIA could help you exponentially achieve your goals.
As the world works to recover from the pandemic, the financial advice sector will look different. Investors will expect more from their advisors, and the independent model can help address this expectation. Our team has helped many advisors transition to independent, and we understand the transition process can be daunting. That’s why we help you every step of the way, providing the support, partnership and technology you need to be successful.
If going independent is even a thought, then you have already taken your first step toward the path of independence. Considering transitioning your business to an independent model? We’re here to help. Reach out to our team today or connect with us on LinkedIn and Twitter.
We’ve seen a major shift in the financial advice industry in the last decade, as more advisors opt out of the traditional brokerage model and dive into the independent RIA space. The leap is a significant one, with the potential to propel growth and revamp an entire career trajectory. When we speak with advisors considering making the move to an independent RIA, many of the same concerns rise to the surface: Do I have what it takes to succeed? Will my clients come with me? Where will I find the right operational support?
These concerns are not unfounded but the advisors who have successfully transitioned to independence with GVA will tell aspiring-independent advisors a different story — one of perseverance and ultimate success as a result of finding the right partner.
It’s helpful to hear directly from advisors who have already been successful in transitioning their practices. Here at GVA, we have a network of 75 advisors who broke away and are now running independent practices. We tapped four of those advisors to learn why they took the leap and aren’t looking back.
In Their Words: The Benefits of Going Independent
Defining your own success. Financial advisors are inherently success-driven when working to achieve clients’ goals and objectives. But when it comes to your own practice, operating as an independent advisor is one of the best ways to define your distinctive measures of success. Entrepreneurship comes with its own challenges, but our team has the firsthand knowledge and experience to create a clear pathway to success. We customize transition plans, help review contracts, offer marketing support and provide resources to transition old clients and onboard new ones. Once your business is established, we also offer operational and compliance support so you can focus on what’s most important — your clients.
Enhancing your clients’ experience. One thing we hear loud and clear from all our advisors is the importance of adding value for your clients. GVA advisors want to make a profound impact on their clients’ lives by designing solutions that help them meet their goals. The traditional broker setting requires advisors to sell specific products that may or may not meet client objectives. In the independent setting, however, advisors no longer need to mold themselves to a certain style or feel constrained by a limited list of potentially ill-fitting products. This liberating flexibility provides unparalleled benefits for clients, while better positioning you to design plans that meet and even exceed their expectations. GVA has a suite of proprietary investment strategies, all managed in-house, that our advisors can implement for their clients.
Realizing your true earning potential. Opening an independent shop requires an initial financial commitment, but the potential is great for higher and more consistent income streams throughout the life of your business. It’s important to be strategic when vetting firms to partner with as you establish your RIA, specifically understanding what their compensation package covers and what your true take-home pay would look like. GVA offers transparent fees and a clear picture of advisor compensation so you can better envision your earning potential. One of our core offerings, AdvisorBOB, helps facilitate this clarity across the network by providing a complete billing and compensation solution for RIAs. Such financial support ensures a strong foundation on which to grow your practice.
Accelerating your growth by leveraging the right resources. A high priority as advisors transition to independent is growing the business in asset size and headcount. In order to achieve this scale, advisors need access to the right resources. GVA provides a framework to facilitate such growth, enabling smaller shops to leverage premium tools commonly associated with larger firms. One of the highlights is the GVA technology stack, which features some of the top technology providers in the industry, including Orion, Smarsh and PandaDoc. Aligning with GVA provides access to these programs as well as the support and structure to implement them properly, freeing up your time and resources for pipeline-building.
Advice From Our Advisors
With the right support, shifting to an independent model is not only doable, but presents an exciting range of new opportunities for your business and clients. Furthermore, the path to this ideal destination doesn’t have to be intimidating. At GVA, we strive to make the transition as seamless as possible, supporting our advisors as much (or as little!) as they would like.
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a wave of change for the financial services sector, namely accelerating the industry’s ongoing shift to digital. Firms are showing they’re willing to invest in technology that improves practice management efficiency and overall workflow. Nearly three-quarters of advisors surveyed by leading financial industry publisher Arizent said their firms were investing in technology to support the digital workforce. Further, July research published by InvestmentNews found that firms spent 3.7% of revenue on technology, an increase from 2018.
But with more resources behind this technological shift, the question remains: are RIAs investing in the right kind of technology?
One area that’s ripe for technological intervention is billing and compensation. It’s a familiar story for RIA firms: typical billing and compensation activities are time consuming and costly, often requiring a dedicated team member and absorbing days of their time each month. Data from a 2019 survey by Kitces Research of how advisors spend their time showed an average time-spend of 4.2 hours per week on administrative tasks like these.
How AdvisorBOB Can Help
AdvisorBOB (Book of Business) is one of Great Valley Advisor’s core proprietary technology offerings and it offers a complete billing and compensation solution for RIAs. It allows firms to track commissions and expenses in real time and gives advisors immediate access to their personalized portal. It saves time and money, promotes efficiency across the firm and boosts transparency with advisors – factors of increased importance as RIAs adjust to the “new normal.”
Since its launch in 2017, AdvisorBOB has processed and paid out over $85 million in override advisory fees. In that time, users have come to rely on several core features. Here are the top four features that our RIA clients love:
- Administrative view with live stats – As soon as users log in, the AdvisorBOB dashboard delivers quick insights into the full practice, including live stats on how the team is progressing toward production goals for the month.
- Complete payout transparency – The AdvisorBOB dashboard includes an in-depth look at payout figures, the sum of adjusted payouts and the sum of net payouts for a designated pay cycle, as well as the net sum difference between the current cycle and previous quarters.
- Customized reports – AdvisorBOB’s reporting feature provides the option of preparing customized and comprehensive reports on a variety of plan, commission and fee aspects. Examples include: quick analysis of commissions for designated pay cycles, line-items and adjustments by pay cycle, advisor fees by representative identification, account class or vendor, profitability of financial plans, net payout and levelized direct deposit for each advisor.
- Detailed financial plans overviews – Within the advisor portal, advisors have a complete view of their plans and clients, allowing them full visibility into how clients are billed (one-time fee or recurring charges). Advisors are given a historic and forward-looking view on all billing aspects, including whether plans are currently active and what is due to be paid in the future. They can set up payment preferences directly in the dashboard with check, credit card and ACH transfer options.
The Bottom Line
As RIAs embrace a move toward a more digital practice, they should be looking for tech solutions that actually solve their practice management challenges and not just a blanketed, one-size-fits-all solution. AdvisorBOB is a single-source technology solution for advisors, providing an in-depth, easy-to-navigate, transparent and — most importantly — a customizable view into their revenue streams. It was designed to streamline an important, yet time-consuming aspect of the advisor’s business and allow more time for the advisor to focus on working with clients.
AdvisorBOB is not affiliated with or endorsed by LPL Financial or Great Valley Advisor Group.
The coronavirus pandemic prompted a sudden and widespread shift to a remote workforce, and groups that traditionally conducted all business in person had to quickly adjust to a new virtual environment. Financial advisors rose to the occasion and maintained normal business practices amid the changes.
As the pandemic took hold in the spring, Arizent, the parent company of financial services publications like Financial Planning, surveyed 300 financial services professionals about the shift to digital, and many reported greater use of technology. Two-thirds of respondents were increasing use of video conferencing tools to communicate with clients and nearly 75% indicated their firms were investing more in technology to support the remote team.
While advisors were generally able to adjust to the digital workspace, many are eager to return to the office and resume in-person meetings with clients and colleagues, and many firms are well underway in creating plans to bring staff back. A May 2020 CNBC survey of its Global CFO Council found the vast majority (75%) of its North American members were working remotely at the time but expected a shift back to offices by September. Thirty-four percent of respondents noted less than a quarter of the workforce would be remote come fall.
However, as threats of the coronavirus still loom, returning to the office is a complicated — and potentially costly — task, with expectations of cleanliness and safety higher than ever before. There are steps you can take to protect your team — whether you lead a group of three or 30 — and safely bring them back to the office. Here are some tips:
- Assess your current office setup. Before bringing any staff into the building, it’s important to assess the current facilities and equipment and identify potential hazards. The open office setup that previously facilitated collaboration and team bonding now presents a health risk, and the shared coffee pot where you discussed the latest Wall Street news has likely become a bygone of the pre-coronavirus era. Consider adding plexiglass dividers and removing previously shared kitchen items to make the office safer.
- Determine who will come back and when. It’s not feasible or safe to bring your entire staff back at one time. Who returns and when will be unique to your firm and your team’s specific circumstances. In many cases, testing protocols with firm leadership is a smart place to start. A mid-April Deloitte survey of financial services institutions found that return-to-work plans would largely be based on job functions (64%) and/or geography (60%) or a combination of these two factors.
- Establish new office rules and be clear in relaying them to your team. Follow CDC and local guidelines when designing your office regulations, particularly when it comes to mask wearing, hand washing, temperature checks (including frequency and temperature thresholds) and other sanitation measures. There should also be strict requirements related to how team members report possible exposures and self-quarantine periods. Establishing these rules and ensuring everyone is on the same page will allow for much easier enforcement. The CDC has dedicated an entire section of its site to recommendations, tips and guidelines for businesses that can help guide your plan.
- Designate one room for meetings and clean it often. Frequent and thorough cleanings will be essential to keeping your team safe, especially in high-traffic areas. Designating a single space — ideally one of your larger conference rooms — for collaboration will make this process a bit easier.
- Provide cleaning supplies, sanitizer and personal protective equipment. Be sure to have masks on hand for yourself, your team members and any office visitors. These, as well as plenty of hand sanitizer and surface-sanitizing wipes and sprays, should be placed in prominent locations and vigilantly used by all personnel.
Bringing your team into the office is an important first step toward eventually welcoming clients back to the office. While in-home meetings are discouraged at present, there are some clients who will be eager to meet face-to-face with their team, and these in-person meetings will be necessary in some cases. There are several special considerations when bringing outside visitors into the office:
- Ensure client appointments are scheduled in advance and limited to a set amount of time. Clients must be discouraged from stopping in unannounced. When they are scheduled to come in, meetings should have a set duration to mitigate overall risk. Further, clients should not bring anyone else with them.
- Encourage social distancing. Whenever possible, work to maintain social distancing standards by meeting in a larger space — or better yet, outside. Encourage all visitors to wear masks during the meeting.
- Alert other office mates of visitors. Whenever someone is on the premises, it’s important to alert all other team members at the office — especially if you are in a shared space.
- Inform your client of office protocols in advance of the meeting. Share the firmwide rules and regulations and be clear on your expectations for their cooperation. Greet clients outside and bring them directly to the meeting space to begin promptly.
- Clean up immediately. Following the meeting, ensure the meeting space is thoroughly cleaned, with all hard surfaces, door knobs and chairs wiped down with a CDC-approved disinfectant.
For most financial advisors, operating in an entirely remote scenario isn’t feasible over the long term. As businesses adjust to the new normal, establishing rules and following protocols are essential to maintaining a safe environment for all.
The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. The opinions expressed in this material do not necessarily reflect the views of LPL Financial.
GVA’s CIO, Lee R. Johnson, Jr., CFA , shares his views on the stock market and overall economy. We hope you find it informative.
As I write this from my home in Chester Springs, PA, I thought I would share a few thoughts unrelated to work, the stock market or the economy. There is plenty of that in the pages that follow.
First, I want to extend my warmest wishes to everyone out there and my hope that you are all safe and healthy. The top priority right now is your health and the well-being of you and your family. That is the most important thing.
Second, I urge you to stay positive because I firmly believe the human spirit always prevails. For me, I think back to a 100-mile bike ride I did last year to Ocean City, NJ. It was a beautiful day and the group I rode with went through Philadelphia and crossed the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. As I began my ascent up the bridge, I passed a few people and then the path opened up in front of me. The sky emerged and served as my view the whole way up. It was such an invigorating blue no matter where I looked. Even the sound of the passing cars went silent. At the top of the bridge, I stopped and looked around and could see for miles. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the view was spectacular. I looked back at the city and thought “well I just rode through all that confusion and commotion and made it up here safe and sound and now it’s so nice and calm”. There were no limits as I stood there. I compared it to what I do on a daily basis working in the stock market. Where there is constant uncertainty and constant commotion. I thought “this is just like the market…if you stay the course, think positive and stay focused, you will find yourself in a better place and much better off for it”. This is how I am thinking right now. I am simply riding my bike up that bridge and thinking of that clear blue sky in front of me because I know there will be clarity on the other side.
Finally, as we all stay at home, think of all the good that brings. Think about the extra time you get to spend with your family, your kids, your pet, your significant other and/or your extended family. Think how you’ve had extra down time in the house to relax and unwind. Think how you’ve been able to reconnect with friends and family in different ways – perhaps through a “Zoom” meeting. Now you may be feeling separation anxiety as you adjust from your normal routine. And you may be doing things outside of your comfort zone. Like working from home or home schooling your kids. But think of it this way: is it really that bad? Or would you rather be in a hospital bed with a ventilator as your only hope for survival? Not me that’s for sure. And I’m sure not you either. So let’s all be mindful of that and focus on the good and think positive here. Because it’s my belief the rest will work itself out in time. Now, let’s get on to the markets and the economy.