Advisor Transitions: When things go very, very wrong

April 4, 2018


I was working with an advisor at UBS a few years ago who decided he wanted to go 

independent. He'd been introduced to another guy from a different firm, and together we all planned to start an RIA. Two weeks before our scheduled resignation date, one of the custodian's transition representatives mailed our client welcome packets to us. AT OUR CURRENT OFFICE.


That’s right, you read that correctly. The transition representative at our future custodian mailed a bunch of stuff to our current employer.


I think it goes without saying, sh*t hit the fan. I was the only one in the office that day. The advisor I worked with was out for a medical procedure and the advisor from the other firm was at lunch. A team member from the UBS operations department approached me about some boxes they’d received. One had gotten wet in the rain and torn open at the corner. Inside were hundreds of client brochures. I was asked to explain the contents of the boxes. All I could say was “I have no idea. I’m sure it’s a mistake. I will ask the advisor when he comes in”.


The next few minutes were a blur. I called both advisors and the transition rep. No one answered their phones. I left frantic messages and sent emails in all caps with lots of exclamation points. I didn’t get in touch with anyone until I called the advisor’s wife and explained that I urgently needed to speak with her husband. She reluctantly handed over the phone because he’d been under anesthesia only hours earlier and he was still out of sorts. As soon as I explained the situation, he immediately snapped out of it.


I played the waiting game as the advisor made his way into the office. He called the custodian, the other advisor, and our attorneys. There was only one possible solution to the dilemma – leave immediately. So we gathered our things, handed in a hastily written resignation letter, and left the office.


It was terrible. As a W-2 employee, I was technically quitting my job to join a startup that had no infrastructure established yet. We didn’t even have an office. Thankfully the building manager allowed us to use our new office space even though it wasn’t ready yet. We brought in a card table and some folding chairs and made a run to Staples for some basic supplies. The first few days consisted of nothing more than client phone calls and information gathering. As our office furniture, hardware, and kitchen supplies slowly trickled in, we were able to function more productively. 


It turns out, the transition team member who’d mailed the boxes to the wrong address did so as his last task before going on a two week vacation. So the custodian was scrambling to help onboard us onto their system without the point person we’d been dealing with for the last few weeks. They were mortified by the mistake and ill-equipped to handle the repercussions. And get this… it all happened during the last two weeks of the year. One of the busiest time periods for financial institutions in general, AND Christmas. Nuff said.


I tell this story, not to be critical of any person or institution, but to raise awareness. Transitions are tough. Things go wrong. Sometimes crisis management is just a part of the process. You can’t plan for every scenario, but you can be prepared for hiccups.

In the end, it all worked out just fine. Our clients still joined us. We eventually got everything up and running. Things calmed down and we were able to focus on everyday business functions. I learned everything so quickly and so efficiently in spite of, and probably because of, the situation. My contribution to the team was highly appreciated, and I became somewhat of a resident transition expert going forward.


If I’m being completely honest, it was probably that particular experience that made me start my own business. Yes, it was terrifying, but it was also exhilarating. I single-handedly re-papered hundreds of accounts and helped build a business from the ground up. Every transition I’ve ever consulted on has been an adrenaline rush. Helping advisors achieve their goals by becoming true entrepreneurs is my passion. I truly enjoy the experience and can be a vital resource during the process.


I've not had a transition since that one that's been nearly as eventful. That's not to say there haven't been bumps in the road, but much of what I've consulted on has been tame in comparison. My past experiences have prepared me for the worst. To any advisors considering the move to independence, my advice is prepare for the worst, hope for the best. And, talk to Grier. She's awesome.


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