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Pinpointing a Legacy Firm in an M&A World

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According to’s recently released 2023 M&A Outlook, advisory firm activity was on fire in 2022. Seventy percent of respondents to a survey conducted by and Informa Engage indicated that their firm had explored an acquisition, sale or merger in 2022, while 44% said their firm had actually executed an M&A deal.

Those numbers underscore the torrid pace of M&A activity over the past few years. In a Family Wealth Report article, veteran M&A investment banker and partner at Republic Capital Group, Peter Nesvold, explained that, “Wealth management M&A has passed the point of no return. There are more than a dozen professional acquirers in the industry. They are in the business of buying RIAs.”

But what about the financial professionals impacted by our industry’s increasing ardor for M&A? Most of the financial professionals we speak to are, quite frankly, sick of losing the culture and business model they love to become cogs in the wheel of a giant aggregator.

Their job satisfaction and their clients’ experience become collateral damage as smaller practices are gobbled up and the very characteristics that made them unique – that made them home – are bulldozed by massive firms with one-size-fits-all mindsets.

The truth is, most financial professionals got into this industry because they wanted to make a positive impact on people’s lives. But when their firms’ leadership is swayed elsewhere, with a focus on building to sell instead of building to serve, it’s easy to lose sight of the passion that compelled them to pursue this career path in the first place.

Former Merrill advisor and Advisory Council to Management Chair Kelly Milligan put it this way: “Merrill’s principles started with clients first. Then, after the merger [with Bank of America], there was a new set of principles that did not start with clients first. The environment shifted from being one of ‘let’s make sure that we are accomplishing things for our clients’ to ‘let’s make sure we are minimizing, and even better yet, eliminating risk in the business.’ And one of the best ways to eliminate risk is to not approve anything, not do anything. Easiest to say no, and then there’s no risk in that decision.

To the financial professionals who have experienced this upheaval, we say: Isn’t it time to rediscover your purpose?

Not every firm is caught up in the M&A madness. Some are in the business of building legacies, generational firms that withstand the test of time precisely because their focus is on helping their financial professionals do the work they love.

How can you tell which is which? If you’re evaluating potential new practices, here are five indicators that a firm’s focus is on a long-term legacy, not a short-term sale.

Longevity. If the firm has been around for a significant amount of time under the same leadership (or passed down to younger family members), it’s likely their roots are firm.

An ongoing investment in technology and service. Firms that prioritize investing in their financial professionals do so because they believe in building a future together. At Silver Oak, we’re dedicated to empowering our reps with everything they need to do their best work for their clients, including constantly improving our proprietary technology platform, offering comprehensive compliance and marketing support, and ensuring our service team is always readily accessible.

Leadership with a distinct point of view. Is it easy to tell what the firm’s leadership team believes in? Are they vocal about the way they see the industry evolving, and what their firm’s position is? Strong leaders with passionate, distinct viewpoints about their firms aren’t likely to be swayed by the wave of M&A activity, particularly if doing so would mean giving up what makes them unique. (Speaking of a distinct point of view, do you follow our CEO and founder, Billy Hopkins, on LinkedIn?)

Firm culture. Firms with strong cultures built around community tend to be focused on the long term. Regular events, ongoing education opportunities, training resources, networking channels  and milestone celebrations all speak to a culture focused on creating an incredible experience for financial professionals.

The happiness of current reps. Finally, perhaps the best way to learn about a firm’s ultimate intention is through its financial professionals. What do they say about their experience? At Silver Oak, we’re happy to let our financial professionals do the talking for us:

“Connecting with Silver Oak Securities has been one of the best decisions I’ve made in my years in this industry. The team is experienced enough to provide counsel and nimble enough to adapt so that we can stay on top of client service, technology, marketing and compliance related matters as our firm continues to grow and evolve.” - Andy Wallace, CFP, Comprehensive Financial Strategies, LLC

Are you ready to rediscover your purpose at a firm that’s building a legacy? Learn more about joining Silver Oak Securities!