How can you move your business?

Take time to discern what you need, and who can provide it, because it's worth doing now, says VP

How can you move your business?

When Mark Hougen, a former BMO Nesbit Burns vice-president, joined Raymond James earlier this year, he found the transition went smoother than expected. But, he and his team had also done their due diligence to ensure it did.

“The reason to move is not for the money,” he said, “but so you can do your best work for your clients.”

Now Senior Vice President and Portfolio Manager with Hougen Wealth Management, Raymond James, in Calgary, Hougen shared the steps of making such a move with Wealth Professional, so others could glean from his experience.

Hougen, who moved a month after his 20th anniversary at the bank, had been watching others move to independents for a few years and thinking about it for three years. Once he decided he couldn’t change where he was, he and his team spent a year checking the options and finding the ideal fit. The Hougen Team found it at Raymond James – and within four weeks of moving, the team was back to 100% of assets under management.

Hougen said the first thing he did was look at his book and client relationships.

“You can’t move if you don’t have a great service model and a clean book. This is the prep work that you need to do in advance. You need to have a good hard look at your existing book, your service model, and your relationships, and the first thing I would do is clean all that stuff up. Make sure you’re on really solid footing with your clients,” he said, noting his team decided to take 120 of its 124 clients. 

His team then identified its parameters.

“All three of us on our team created a list over a couple of months, and we put everything that was important to us on it, and what was annoying us the most, and why we couldn’t do our best work,” said Hougen. “We used that list to say, ‘if we go somewhere, it’s got to be way better at these ten things because they’re what’s slowing us down. This is what’s making it hard to do our best work.’ And that easily crossed off a bunch of firms for us.”

The team then began reviewing the options. It ruled out bank firms as they all had the same issues that the team  members wanted to leave behind. It then explored the various independent models and narrowed it to Raymond James and Richardson Wealth.  

By this time, the team knew it wanted independence and an environment that it felt put clients first. The operation also had to have the size and scale to provide the tools and staff that the Hougen team needed to do its best work for its clients.

The team members met with their equivalents in the office teams, got a sense of how each firm felt and what was good or not good, and inquired about the company philosophy to see how well it matched the team’s. Hougen said they talked to the senior management, recruiting people, various members of the teams – assistants, financial planners, and investment advisors – and other friends who recently joined the firm to see what it was really like to work in that operation. They discussed software, rules, and decision-making models. 

“It’s really helpful to talk to somebody you know that has a business similar to yours that’s moved to where you’d like to go,” said Hougen, “not just for the investment advisor, but also the assistant and other members of the team. Everyone’s got slightly different terms, but I think it’s important that every single person on the team is on board and has talked to a person in that same role at the new firm.

“We wouldn’t have moved unless everybody on our team was happy with the decision we made,” he said, noting its members unanimously agreed on Raymond James because it was a great fit and friends who had earlier moved to Raymond James confirmed the culture, technology, and management style were working well for them.

The Hougen team liked Raymond James for several reasons, including the flat leadership structure, branch manager, and knowledge that it could leave at anytime and the firm wouldn’t try to poach its clients. “Imagine how much more senior management will listen to what you have to say because you have walking power,” said Hougen.

The team kept the move “super-confidential” until it was done. Once it was, it spent the first week phoning all the clients and getting their okay while reassuring them the new company was just providing the back office support, and their team’s relationship would continue with them. The Raymond James transition team helped to complete the move, opening accounts and assisting with transfers, and Hougen’s team moved its assets within a record month.

 “If you’re thinking of doing it, spend the time. It should be a thorough process, but it’s absolutely worth it,” said Hougen. “Don’t put it off because you think it will be too hard or too much disruption. We were completely back to normal eight weeks after. It’s not as bad as people fear.

“Take some time. You want to do it right. I don’t think anyone wants to do it more than once. So, do your due diligence. Spend time at the top level and on the nitty-gritty details, the management structure, approvals, what you can or can’t do. I thought it was an industry standard that we couldn’t be on Facebook, but that was just true of the bank. The independent firms offer more flexibility.”

“It’s a big decision, but don’t put it off because you think it’s just too hard or too late in your career. It’s worth doing right now,” Hougen said. “I’d encourage anyone who thinks they can’t do their best work for their clients where they are to think about this. I wish we’d done it years ago.”