As technology continues to drive change for financial advisors, commoditizing basic tasks of portfolio construction and product selection and forcing advisors to add more value on top, the ripple effects of the shift impacts not only the financial advisor business model and value proposition, but also the way that insurance and investment product manufacturers - and their wholesalers - must interact with the advisor of the future. A microcosm of this challenge is already playing out in the RIA space - which for wholesalers, is notoriously difficult to break in to - and when combined with other industry trends, paints the picture of a highly challenging environment for wholesalers going forward.
In this week’s #OfficeHours with @MichaelKitces, my Tuesday 1PM EST broadcast via Periscope, we discuss why I do believe there's a solid future for wholesaling in the coming decade and beyond, but why the nature of wholesaling is changing, and what wholesalers can (and must) do to continue to succeed in an advice-centric world!
Historically, "financial advisors" were paid to implement products, and the wholesaler was an ally in product distribution, educating advisors about not only the products themselves, but sales ideas to pair with them, what other advisors were doing to successfully sell the products, and even running wholesaler-supported events for clients and prospects.
Yet as financial advisors shift from a sales-centric model compensated by product implementation, to an advice-centric model compensated by clients, the relationship shifts, as the financial advisor is no longer a distribution channel to deliver good products to clients, but a gatekeeper that shields clients from potentially bad products. Which is a big deal, because it means that advice-centric advisors don't necessarily care about sales ideas, or free golf balls, or money for the next client/prospect event... instead, advice-centric advisors want: (1) a product that is actually, factually superior to something we're already using, and (2) an extremely knowledgeable wholesaler who can hold their own when it comes time to vet that product against what the advisor is already doing or using.
The second shift underway in the industry, that also impacts the advisor-wholesaler relationship, is the trend towards firms outsourcing investment management through a TAMP, or centralizing through a large RIA or broker-dealer's in-house investment team and investment models. The reason these shifts matter is that it means in the future, the actual “financial advisor” is simply going to be less and less responsible for the selection of the specific investments products that go in the portfolio in the first place. Which means there is less need for wholesalers broadly distributed across the country to call on individual advisor offices, and instead, a need for wholesalers who deal with centralized investment teams at RIA, TAMP, or broker-dealer home offices. And ironically that group – an investment team of CFAs and other investment experts – will be even harder for wholesalers to pitch to.
As a result, I have three tips for wholesalers out there struggling in the current advisor landscape. First, find a job at a company that actually has great products, because if you don't have great products to present, advisors simply will not be interested. Period. Second, invest in your knowledge and skills by pursuing credentials such as the CLU designation (for insurance/annuity wholesalers) and CIMA certification (for investment wholesalers), because the demand on you to provide real expertise is only going to increase as you begin to deal more with centralized teams of experts within advisory firms (and as advisors in general are compelled to increase their own educational standards). And third, please do your homework before you contact us. Don't mass email us asking to "catch up for 15 minutes" or "learn about our investment approach" when you can find a lot of that information on our websites or in our ADVs. Take the time to figure out exactly what you have to offer that adds value for our clients, and then make a targeted and direct pitch that is relevant; given how much advisors are swamped and overwhelmed with inbound wholesaler inquiries these days, targeted relevance is what it takes to break through the noise.
The bottom line, though, is just to recognize that the nature of the advisor-wholesaler relationship is changing alongside the shift from a sales-centric to an advice-centric industry, and with that shift comes changes in what advisors need from wholesalers, as well as the depth of expertise wholesalers need to deliver value to advisors. These changes require that wholesalers actually have a great product to offer, and reach out in a more targeted manner, which means wholesalers won't be able to reach out to as many advisors (and there may be fewer wholesalers more generally), but the future is still very bright for great wholesalers with real expertise and great products!