The career path of becoming a financial advisor has long been lauded as an opportunity that pairs together a high income potential with the flexibility of building your own book of clients (or the outright benefits of being an entrepreneur building an independent business). The caveat, though, is that while financial advisors do generate an income far higher than the national average, there is also a great deal of stress in building an advisory business from scratch and just trying to survive long enough to enjoy that income. Not to mention the reality that, as the saying goes, “You can’t take it with you”… raising the question of whether the stressful pursuit of a financial advisor’s income potential is even ‘worth it’ in the long run?
But as the latest Kitces Research on Advisor Wellbeing shows, financial advisors do in fact enjoy not only above-average income, but above-average wellbeing in all 18 sub-scales of the Comprehensive Inventory of Thriving (a comprehensive measure of wellbeing). And in fact, while the average American typically reaches a point where their wellbeing stops rising once they achieve a certain level of income, financial advisors continue to report ever-greater levels of wellbeing as their career earnings continue to grow with additional years of experience!
The caveat, though, is that while advisor wellbeing does rise as income grows, advisor wellbeing actually begins to decline once the aggregate revenue of the business exceeds $1.5M. And on average, the higher revenue grows from there, the lower the self-reported wellbeing of financial advisors themselves! The shift appears to be driven by the reality that once an advisory firm grows materially beyond $1.5M of revenue, it is virtually inevitable that the advisory firm takes on multiple lead advisors, and a growing team infrastructure to support them… transforming the founder’s role from being the advisor they first set out to be into becoming a manager instead, while simultaneously increasing their hours worked and reducing the autonomy they have over their time and schedule. All of which are associated with lower wellbeing.
Of course, given that most advisors haven’t even reached $1M+ of revenue, many might wish they had such ‘first-world’ problems. However, our Kitces Research on Advisor Wellbeing also shows significant dips in advisor wellbeing at approximately $275,000, $550,000, and $825,000 of revenue… all of which are associated with capacity thresholds where advisory firms must hire to service their ever-growing number of clients. Which means in practice, advisory firms actually face a series of repeated barriers that reduce wellbeing… all associated with hitting the capacity limitations of serving clients, and what happens when the firm either doesn’t hire early enough, doesn’t hire enough at all… or hires so many people that the founder primarily shifts to becoming a manager of that team (instead of an advisor).
Ultimately, though, the key point is simply to recognize that in the end, it’s maximizing the value of our time – and literally generating the maximal revenue from the minimal time – that appears to be one of the greatest drivers of advisor wellbeing. Which means the key to “happy growth” is not just adding more clients, but specifically increasing revenue per client (by attracting and serving more affluent clients who can pay higher fees) that allows advisors to do their most rewarding work. Even if, in the long run, that actually means working with fewer clients… who most value the time and value that their financial advisor provides!