Financial Advisors

Structuring Your Financial Advisory Firm for Success

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Scaling up and securing your practice’s future begins with clear career paths and compensation models

The financial services industry has changed a lot in the last decade, with many successful firms committing to big organizational shifts. No longer the realm of small, siloed operations, today's productive and scalable firms are becoming more professionalized and structured.

And as the baby boomer generation, who mostly own these firms, nears retirement, succession planning must also be part of the overall structure of a financial advisory practice that wants to exist long beyond its founders' time in the first chair. 

Out with the Old

Traditionally, founders often juggled multiple roles, essentially handling everything from face-to-face client relations to back-office functions to run the business. But as firms expand, the most successful ones are restructuring. They're breaking down these functions into areas of firm leadership, business development, client services support, and client interactions.

This separation allows specialists to excel in their respective domains, resulting in more efficient operations and enhanced client experiences.

Shifting to Role Specialization

C-suite and dedicated management roles within a financial advisory firm are becoming more common when restructuring and have key benefits to a practice. These professionals play a pivotal role in driving the firm's growth but are not directly client-facing. Firms are becoming increasingly strategic in how they fill these roles, whether through internal promotions, external hires, or even candidates from outside the financial industry.

Nationally recognized financial advisor and author, Jason L Smith, CEP®, BPC, shared some key traits he looks for when recruiting talent in an episode of the Rainmaker Multiplier On- Demand podcast.

Smith believes that future financial advisors can be successful regardless of their industry or experience level if they have a commitment to hard work and a clear career path to follow.

In the same podcast, he discussed finding skilled people and identified shared qualities that often indicate future success. Athletes, for example, make excellent future high-performing advisors. They are typically individualistic and have a strong desire to continually raise the bar for themselves. 

“It's that high utility, that resourcefulness, and that high individualism. Those seem to be the pinnacles for what drives somebody to be a sales superstar.”

Creating specialized roles optimizes operations and reduces the burden of wearing multiple hats, allowing team members to focus on their core responsibilities.

Building Career Paths and Compensation Structures

To facilitate teamwork, the establishment of clear career paths and compensation structures has become vital to invest in and recruit team members who are a good fit for a firm long-term.

C2P’s Advisor Career Path & Compensation Model

As founder and CEO of JL Smith Wealth & Tax Planning, and a planning-first RIA, Prosperity Capital Advisors, Smith believes that giving skilled people a way to buy into your firm and become a practicing partner provides an incentive to become a top producer.

That’s why he developed The Advisor Career Path & Compensation Model — to help advisors recruit, reward, and retain top talent. The program is designed for advisors who are the sole rainmaker of their practice and are looking to build a self-sustaining business.

To support the idea of specialization in a practice’s structure, this career path model breaks the advisory into five distinct rungs:

  • Client Service Advisor: Entry-level backstage position for client administration and new business handling.
  • Paraplanner: A transitional role for backstage team members to learn and build financial plans.
  • Advisor: Frontstage and client-facing role supporting Lead Advisors and Practicing Partners.
  • Lead Advisor: Responsible for serving valuable clients and business development; mentors lower-rung team members.
  • Practicing Partner: A leadership role with ownership and a stake in the firm's strategy; drives organizational growth.
5 rungs of the advisor career path

This five-rung approach assists employees and supervisors in career advancement by providing clear goals and methods to track progress. It helps them understand how to move forward in their careers and know what is expected of them.

It's important to note that not everyone will progress through all rungs of the ladder, and that's perfectly fine. Employees have different strengths and interests, and so this career path allows for various career trajectories. The key is to find the right fit where each team member can thrive.

Securing an Advisory Firm’s Future with Succession Planning

Many financial advisor practices lack robust succession plans, instead relying heavily on owner-advisors. But if an aging advisor wants or needs to step away from the day-to-day operations, a firm without a proper plan in place leaves support staff scrambling. This can also sometimes mean the business doesn’t survive past its founder’s direct involvement.

Mergers or acquisitions are common methods to deal with this but can't fix the main problem of advisor exits. To secure their future, firm leaders should implement a multi-faceted approach that includes succession planning.

Models like the Advisor Career Path & Compensation help financial advisors foster self-sustaining practices by having a steady pipeline of invested support staff to keep the business going strong long into the future.

Balancing Scale and Personalized Service

While scaling is essential for efficiency and growth, benefits from continuously delivering a personalized, high-touch client experience to clients. An efficient way to do that is to build the passage of best practices from experienced advisors to the next generation into the business model.

This way, owners stepping down or away from the firm can rest assured that their clients are receiving the same level of care their clients are accustomed to.

How Top Wealth Management Firms Use This Model

The Advisor Career Path & Compensation program has been successful for RIA firms like JL Smith. It has also made C2P a finalist in the “Thought Leadership & Education” category in ThinkAdvisor’s LUMINARIES awards in 2023.

Smith used this career path at his firm to successfully turn his $10 per hour intern starting at the 1st rung of the career path ladder, eventually into his $51 million rainmaker at his firm, allowing Jason to step down as lead advisor and focus on the management of his practice.

Restructuring for a Stable, Prosperous Future

The financial industry's organizational design is evolving rapidly to meet the demands of a changing landscape of clients. Modern firms have clear roles, specialized positions, structured career paths, and balance between scale and service excellence to better serve their clients and prosper beyond their founder’s lifetime. For more information on resources C2P offers for restructuring one’s firm, book a call, and download a free eBook about the Advisor Career Path & Compensation Model to help your business succeed with or without you.

Learn more about the Advisor Career Path & Compensation training program and how to attend the next available course.

Financial Professional Use Only

The information provided in this presentation is not intended as investment advice or legal advice. The information provided is for informational and training purposes only. The information in this presentation was accurate as of the time the material was created. Tax laws and rulings can frequently change. Please discuss the client’s current situation with an accountant or tax advisor.



The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

C2P Enterprises

C2P Enterprises is a holding company comprised for four distinct brands, each designed to simplify financial planning for advisors and the clients they serve.

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