As an independent individual advisor, I answer with a bias of course. My belief is that most large bank wealth managers will be subject to the requirements of the bank they work for. Having friends that serve in that capacity, I know they are subject to many restrictions on what they can and cannot do. Where independent advisors can put YOUR interests first, instead of the interest of the bank. Additionally, bank employed wealth managers tend to move around from time to time. Either they may be subject to a non-compete in which case you’ll be “assigned” to a replacing representative that you may or may not care for, or they may not be subject to that, and may attempt to persuade you to relocate with them, being subject to potential requirements of the new firm, transaction costs and/or transfer pains. My advice is to look for an independent with a very long track record of being in the same place, and interview them to get a sense that discovering YOUR financial planning needs will come before recommendations. Avoid someone that goes straight into offering you a “portfolio evaluation”. For that person, your needs are secondary, and he just wants to sell you his “superior” portfolio.
I think you pose a good question and a very timely one as the banking wealth management industry is in a state of change as more and more RIA type firms are competing head on with the traditional bank wealth management marketplace. Large bank WM departments probably have the edge if you have extremely sophisticated needs and want more of a one stop shop for your needs. However, sometimes there is a price for convenience both in terms of cost and potential expertise. Like any other decision, you would be best served to interview a few bank WM teams. After you complete this, it would be wise to seek out several independent advisory firms to see what they can offer in terms of your needs and how they would handle your financial planning. A You might be interest to learn that many in the RIA field have deep roots in the banking WM field. I work for an independent RIA and my own bias leans towards this area. A concern to be aware of is turnover and the mergers that can occur and disrupt the banking arena. But, the RIA field also might have similar challenges. No matter what you select, be sure you understand the costs, all benefits, and have a comfort level with the personnel you are dealing with, and be sure to learn who your day to day contact is and how the ongoing relationship will work.
Without knowing your specific needs and circumstances, it's hard to answer that question in detail. If you have a very high net worth and need banking services as well, then a bank or large brokreage house may be the way to go. But there is a considerable amount of pressure in the bank/large brokerage house channel to sell, sell, sell. They typically have very high overhead and production requirements. You are paying that overhead! My biased opinion is that you are likely to get a better value and service working with an independent advisor. It's generally advisable to interview two or three that serve people with your specific needs and asset levels. Brightscope is a great way to find candidates in your region. You can also look for qualified planners at www.cfp.net.
Good and competent people are everywhere: at RIAs, Broker/dealers, Wealth Management firms, etc. Assuming the investment platform and value proposition are attractive to you, and you've checked the regulatory record of the individual advisor, then the most important thing is how you feel about him or her.
Does he or she listen to you to understand your situation? Are they transparent with respect to fees & charges? Does their investment process sound rational and make sense to you? Do you trust the person to be competent and to put your interests first? Are they experienced?
We would add one more question: does the advisor invest a meaningful amount of his or her own funds in the strategies they recommend?