To move or not to move? That is the question people must answer when their financial adviser switches firms.
And it’s a question many will have to address. Each year, about 13 percent of financial advisers leave their firm for a different one or to start their own, according to Cerulli Associates, a Boston research firm.
Thus, many of you will have to decide at some point whether you want to stick with your adviser or stick with the advisory firm.
So how should you make the choice?
The basic issues involve service and money. Will you receive the same level of service at the adviser’s new firm? How much will you have to pay for it?
Consider these five specific issues when making your decision.
Access to desirable investments
If your adviser is moving from a big securities firm to a smaller one, you might actually be provided with a wider array of investment choices. That’s because many big firms pressure their advisers to put customers into the firm’s own mutual funds.
Think twice about switching firms if your adviser says you will have to sell off a substantial amount of your portfolio. Not only would you lose investments you might like, but you may also have to pay capital gains taxes. The adviser may have his or her own interests in mind — earning hefty commissions on the trades.
On the other hand, you should also think twice about following the adviser if you discover you own funds for the wrong reasons. That could mean the adviser did not serve your best interests from the beginning. In this case, it might behoove you to look for another one at a different firm altogether.
Level of service at the new firm
There may be particular services at the adviser’s old firm — such as investment research — that were important to you. Make sure that service will continue to be available at the new firm.
Advisers leaving to start their own firm may spend a lot of time running their company rather than looking after their clients’ needs, says Mick Heyman, an independent financial adviser in San Diego. Heyman has switched firms three times in a 30-year career. “You don’t want them to be distracted.”
And if someone’s going from a small firm to a larger one, the issue is, “Will they be the same adviser with the bureaucracy and more money?” Heyman says.
More value — or less — from your adviser?
“At our firm, clients are typically here because of how we do our cooking. I didn’t bring them in,” says Charles Sachs, a principal at Evensky & Katz Wealth Management in Coral Gables, Fla. In other words, customers are attracted to the strength and reputation of the firm.
But other customers are more firmly tied to their advisers. “If you have a close personal relationship with your adviser, there are startup costs in dealing with a new person at the same firm,” says Richard Rampell, chief executive of Rampell & Rampell accounting firm in Palm Beach, Fla. By that, he doesn’t mean money.
“Say your adviser knows all about your family and different trusts to protect your children. To re-educate someone new might not be simple,” Rampell says.
If your adviser is going solo, make sure he or she has backup in case of illness or another personal emergency.
Fees at the new firm
Financial advisers either charge a commission on trades they make for you, a flat fee based on the amount of your assets, or an hourly or service charge. So it’s possible your adviser will go from commission-based to fee-based or vice versa.
Experts generally prefer fee-based advisers because they don’t have a financial incentive to make unnecessary trades for you. Normally, you shouldn’t have to pay more than 1 percent of your assets in fees, and often less than that if your portfolio is worth more than $1 million. But 1 percent can be a significant amount of money. If your portfolio is worth $500,000, the fee amounts to $5,000 per year — and more, as your portfolio grows.
An adviser’s deal with his or her new firm can affect what you pay. “Sometimes new firms will pay a broker a bonus that could influence trading in customer accounts,” says John Gannon, senior vice president of investor education at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in Washington, D.C. That’s because advisers may be expected to generate revenue to justify the bonus.
Expect a fee of about $100 to have your assets transferred to a new firm. Experts agree that your adviser should cover that fee, as it’s not you who decided to change firms.
Cost of transferring assets
Some investment products are proprietary to the firm issuing them and can’t be moved. So you must either leave them there or liquidate them. “We had a client with structured notes at a bank that would have been costly to exit,” Sachs says. “We didn’t like the notes.” But to save the expense, “we just had the client hang on to (them).”
You should go security by security to get confirmation from your adviser that each one can be transferred, Gannon says. “Even a simple mutual fund may be nontransferable.”
And make sure all the information related to your cost and date of purchase is transferred. “We had a client whose old firm claimed they no longer had the cost basis data,” Rampell says. “We had to go through a portfolio of hundreds of securities, and it cost him thousands of dollars.”