Ken Fisher, Fisher Investments: The Extended 2011 IA 25 Profile

Ken Fisher explains the advantages small independents have over large broker-dealers

This is an extended version of the profile that appeared in the May issue of Investment Advisor, part of AdvisorOne's Special Report profiling this year's members of the IA 25, the most influential people in and around the advisor universe. See the complete list and Special Report schedule for extended profiles of all the 2011 members of the IA 25.

As the founder, CEO and chief investment officer of Fisher Investments, Ken Fisher is known for his investment savvy. But Fisher, who is also a long-time Forbes columnist and author of many books on investing, is well known for building his firm into a powerhouse registered investment advisor with $44 billion in assets under management.

Ken Fisher, Founder/CEO/Chief Investment Officer, Fisher InvestmentsFounded in 1979, Fisher Investments has 1,150 employees, 25,000 clients,and offices based in Woodside, Calif., and London. Fisher has built the privately held firm to this size by doing well for clients, to be sure, but there are other elements to Fisher’s success that smaller independent firms may learn from.

How do clients know about the independent when larger broker-dealers have the advantage of scale and advertising? There are, says Fisher, “only so many levers you can pull. Obviously the little guy can’t pull the lever the wirehouse can, which is lots of indirect marketing—they can’t saturate the TV. [What] the little guy can do as he or she grows, is provide focused service, which the wirehouse broker really can't. The wirehouse broker is a salesperson—not really a service person,” Fisher explains.

“Another is to push the technology lever hard—technology is really the great equalizer between small firms and big firms,” he says. Small firms “can use technology to look and feel as if they already had a brand.”

One advantage a smaller firm has over large ones is that they can use social media when larger firms can find it too hard to control the messages. The “SEC is pretty unclear about what you can and cannot do in social networking, but if you follow the precepts of the ’40 act,” as RIAs would in regular advertising, smaller firms, he says, can engage in social networking “without violating advertising rules.”

“My advice,” Fisher notes, “has always been: Be squeaky clean on everything regulatory and understand the SEC is not your enemy if you are squeaky clean.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a small RIA who wants to stay a small RIA and continue to serve his or her clients,” he says, providing three pieces of advice for firms large and small:

  • "Mean well, try hard and put the customer’s interest first."
  • "Ask yourself over and over: What would Proctor & Gamble do?” RIAs are a “consumer services” business, he notes. Who does that better than a “consumer products” giant like Proctor & Gamble? They have, he says, “good products, good services, good innovation and good technology.”
  • “The best CEOs,” Fisher says, “keep quitting.” How’s that? “Think about what the least-good thing you do is, and even if it costs you money, hire someone to do it for you and quit it. Put your time into things you do best. And then after that find the next-worst thing you do and hire somebody to do that. If you keep doing that you’ll focus on the areas that both maximize your revenue and control your business.”

In his view, “the ultimate founder/CEO doesn’t really have to do anything at some point but keep the vision and create the culture—if you’ve quit well, long enough, and managed well, long enough—you’re largely superfluous.”

Read more about the rest of the 2011 IA 25.

Don't see someone on this year's IA 25 that you think belongs there? Submit their name and your justification for why they should be considered among the most influential people in and around the advisor universe in the Comments field below. We promise to consider reader nominations, but please, no ad hominem attacks on those who were named in this or past years.--Ed.

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