Build, Buy or Partner: What's the Best Way for Advisors to Scale?

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What You Need to Know

  • While growing an advisory firm, acquiring another company or partnering to add additional services are two options.
  • Cost is one concern that advisory firms have about adding new services on their own.
  • One big concern about making referrals is potentially losing clients to their referral partners.

As advisory firms seek to grow their businesses, the question that inevitably comes up is whether they should achieve that, at least in part, through acquisition or by partnering with another firm to add services or expand their footprints.

Doug Johnson, managing director at DeVoe & Co., and Tina Hohman, executive vice president, practice leader, wealth management at independent financial services and insurance firm Alera Group, debated the pros and cons of each solution on Jan. 25, during the webinar “Partnering for Scale: Beyond Wealth Management.”

DeVoe & Co. polled the webinar audience and found that 100% of advisors had clients who were curious about tax planning, estate planning and employee benefits. However, of those advisors who referred these requests to outside consultants, not one advisor polled was satisfied with the amount of business referred back to them in return, according to the firm.

Beyond Table Stakes

Financial planning, for most top-performing advisory firms, is now considered “table stakes,” Johnson said, pointing out: “They’re doing tax planning, preparation, investment planning, retirement planning, college planning” and more.

“As I talk to firms around the industry, they come to me and they say, ‘Hey, you know, Doug, everything’s growing well, but my clients are starting to ask for different services — things that I’m thinking about building out but, man, it could cost me a lot and hurt my bottom-line profits,’” he told viewers.

The people running those firms are also asking whether they should instead partner with firms that already offer the services clients are asking for, Johnson said.

So the question comes down to, “Should the advisory firm build it, or should we partner with somebody else?”

“Part of that conversation, too, is opening in new locations,” because firms know their rivals are expanding geographically, he added.

Hohman said that is “absolutely” what she’s hearing also. There are “still a lot of traditional firms out there, [but] I think we’re [at] the beginning stages of this,” she noted. “I think we’re just kind of on the upward trajectory of talking about these different types of services added to our practice.”