Super OSJ or small firm? What small and midsize practices should consider

Some practices will seek operational assistance by joining a super-OSJ network, while others will partner with a smaller firm that may be able to offer them more personalized service

Jul 31, 2019 @ 2:58 pm

By Wade Wilkinson

Many small and midsize practices are leery of affiliating with a large firm because they fear that may result in getting lost in the shuffle. Indeed, when you are just a number in a sea of advisers, it can be challenging to get the type of support you need to provide top-notch service to your clients and run a growing business.

As an alternative, some practices will seek operational assistance by joining a super-OSJ network. Super OSJs, which are embedded within larger firms, have sprouted up in recent years, staffed with workers who help alleviate many of the tech, compliance and back-office challenges that practices routinely encounter and freeing up advisers to spend time on revenue-generating activities, such as meeting with clients.

Other practices, however, will try to reduce the layers between themselves and the home office, and instead choose to partner with a smaller firm that may be able to offer them a more personalized service experience.

(More: For small B-Ds, becoming part of a branch office of a larger firm is a viable exit strategy)

Whatever the case, here are some considerations if you run a small to midsize firm and are mulling this type of decision.

What is your level of access to decision-makers? As a member of a super OSJ, you will likely have easy access to the leaders of that group. It is equally possible that you could enjoy warm personal relationships with them. Whether that translates into a better service experience is an open question.

Can you be sure super-OSJ leaders will highlight your concerns with broker-dealer executives — or, perhaps more pointedly, whether such executives will feel compelled to respond to them? In some cases, the answer to both questions will be yes. However, that will not always be true, so affiliating with a smaller firm could provide more unfettered access to firm executives, potentially providing you with a loud and influential voice when big decisions are made.

(More: Designing the super OSJ of the future)

What kind of networking opportunities will you have? While some super-OSJ networks cover vast swaths of the country, many are geographically concentrated and tend to include advisers whose practices, if not replicas of one another, are very similar.

Any opportunity to speak to other advisers about their challenges and opportunities is valuable. There is, though, something to be said for leaving your echo chamber and interfacing with a broader cross-section of professionals in an intimate setting. Some super OSJs can facilitate that type of experience. When they cannot, that leaves large national conferences as a way to try to fill that void, and with thousands upon thousands of attendees, that can be difficult.

Can you influence decisions that affect due diligence processes, product selection and tech solutions? As a member of a super OSJ embedded within a mega firm, you may not have outsize influence over in-house compliance, tech and asset management teams, whose mission sometimes is to serve the largest number of advisers without spending too much money or taking any undue risks. That could be the tradeoff to affiliating with a large firm. A smaller firm may offer a different experience, with support teams taking the time to understand and appreciate what makes your business unique and adjusting their offerings accordingly.

Wade Wilkinson is the president and CEO of Securities Services Network, a Knoxville-based independent advisory and brokerage firm that is part of the Ladenburg Thalmann network.


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