Go Big or Boutique? Which Do Gatekeepers Recommend to Their Clients?


Professionals such as attorneys and accounts have a special role to play in the service of their clients that goes beyond their own areas of expertise. In many cases they serve as Gatekeepers, recommending the services of a financial advisor. One of the criteria they consider in matching a financial advisor with their client is the size of the advisor’s firm.

Our research study, Gatekeepers: Their Influence on Referrals and Wealth Transfer , includes interviews with accountants and attorneys who address this and other criteria they consider before making an introduction.

Generally, our report finds, professionals have at the ready a network of advisors with whom they have a prior relationship and feel they can entrust to their clients.

Along with advisor designations, another factor these gatekeepers consider is whether the advisor’s firm is a boutique or a large firm. Both have advantages and drawbacks, and the attorneys and accountants we surveyed will consider the needs and personalities of their clients before making the recommendation based on this criteria.

On the one hand, a small boutique firm is considered by gatekeepers to be more likely than a larger firm to offer clients personalized service. “The small firms that I have seen,” one professional told us, “they go all in. The bigger firms (don’t) go into depth, it’s more high level. Do they still get the job done? Yes. Does it necessarily need to be as in-depth as a smaller firm? No. I think what’s needed is largely dependent upon what the client wants.” Added another professional, “I think initially it’s nice when you can work with a smaller type of firm and get that more personalized type of service which feels more neighborly.”

The professionals who prefer to recommend their clients to an advisor who works in a large firm believe that size matters when it comes to stability, credibility and research capabilities. “A place has more credibility (if it is) a larger firm because they definitely have a machine working for them on their side,” one professional told us. Reflected another, “We prefer larger firms.  Historically, that’s who we’ve worked with.” 

Ultimately, a gatekeeper’s recommendation will be predicated on their client.  “If it’s a large firm, I wouldn’t feel (my client) would get the attention that I required for my business with my clients. On the flipside, sometimes the larger firms have the better reputation or more name recognition. I think it would just depend on the person.”

Of course, the best of both worlds would be ideal, professional say. “I want a Wells Fargo advisor that would give you that boutique feeling,” one told us.