RIAs Don’t Regret Going Independent

Advisers cite independence, personalization, and financial success as their reasons for leaving established firms to go independent, according to Schwab Institutional research.

Schwab Institutional—which provides support for independent, fee-based registered investment advisers (RIAs)—surveyed newly independent RIAs. Although the survey sample was only 55 advisers, 98% say that they would make the decision to go independent again, according to a press release of the results. Three-quarters of those surveyed cite a preference to work for themselves and 62% cite the desire to provide more personalized client service as very important reasons for starting their own independent fee-based firms. Sixty-two percent of respondents also say the opportunity for greater long-term financial success was a very important reason to go independent.

Eighty-six percent of advisers surveyed say that going independent brought them more income than expected. Nearly half (49%) of advisers surveyed say their annual asset growth rate is higher than before they went independent. Once independent, advisers gain more control over their practice and are able to provide more personalized service, according to almost all of those interviewed. Most are also more confident in their ability to retain clients.

After the top three reasons listed above, other key motivators for going independent are dissatisfaction with their prior employers’ business model (60%) and the desire to provide a broader set of products and services to clients (53%).

“While the number of advisers moving to independence has grown steadily for several years, we’ve seen the trend accelerate in recent months as more advisers face inevitable change at their existing employer and begin to think about what step they want to take next,’ said Bernie Clark, senior vice president of Schwab Institutional, in the release. “We heard through this survey and in the conversations we have with advisers every day that the desire for independence is as much about wanting to provide clients with a more personalized experience as it is to secure a brighter future for themselves.’

Challenges, Gains

More than half (56%) of advisers note that setting up an independent fee-based RIA was more challenging than expected, but 98% say they would do it again. The top three challenges advisers say they experienced in the first year are: evaluating and choosing technology, obtaining legal and compliance advice, and finding and retaining quality employees.

Ninety-six percent say they are happier now in their new role; in fact, 75% wish they had made the decision to go independent sooner. Seventy-eight percent agree that they now have more control over their personal lives, according to the results.

The survey was conducted by independent research firm Koski Research from September 16 through October 3, using telephone interviews with 55 advisers who recently started, or went to work for, an independent RIA firm. The advisers surveyed manage approximately $7.2 billion in client assets. Forty-four percent of survey participants previously worked for a full service firm before going independent, but others worked for an independent broker/dealer or a bank and trust institution.