Secret to Building a Lasting Firm: It’s Not All About You

High-profile industry personalities from aRIA think tank discuss best practices

If you were to die one night, would you leave behind a firm you would want managing your family’s money?

“In so many areas, the answer was ‘no,’” said Ron Carson of Carson Wealth Management, who asked himself that very question about 15 years ago. “Now I’m focused on that continual improvement.”

Carson was part of a panel of high-profile advisors that took the stage at MarketCounsel’s Member Summit on Wednesday afternoon in Las Vegas to reveal the practices for growth that got them to the top.

The panel followed the release of a white paper from a new think tank, Alliance for RIAs (aRIA), founded by the group. The paper, titled Creating Value and Certainty Within Your Independent Advisory Firm, flags the four major challenges ahead for independent advisors, while laying out what can be done to position themselves better for the future.

The think tank (and panel) consisted of notable names such as John Furey of Advisor Growth Strategies, John Burns of Exencial Wealth Advisors, Carson, Matt Cooper of Beacon Pointe Wealth Advisors and Neal Simon of Highline Wealth Management.

Furey, the facilitator of the panel, said the think tank was convened to help advisors with “organic and non-organic growth” and that “shared knowledge is far better for the industry than individual knowledge.” One rule to which all participants agreed was “to check egos at the door.” He then asked Simon about his business discipline at Highline.

“I came from a bit of a different background,” Simon replied. “I seed and grow businesses. So I’ve surrounded myself with advisors who know more about wealth management than I ever will.”

Furey then asked Carson about how he defines and builds scale in his practice.

“So many of our advisor clients on the consulting side of our business, called Peak Advisor Alliance, have no compelling succession plan,” Carson said. “Scale is about building for the future. The best piece of advice I’ve heard is to surround yourself with the best and brightest people and get out of their way. When I look at other advisors that want scale, they usually have the passion but not the resources, but it has to be about a process, not about an individual.”

Furey then added that in order to build scale, the advisor must build three core competencies: sales and relationship management, investment in operations and business management.

“When we started our firm, it was largely with pensions and foundations,” Cooper interjected. “The people we brought over were very good and very disciplined in their processes. Today, I don’t have any client-facing responsibilities. Why? Because I have six partners that are better at that than I am, which allows me to run the operations and administration. So it’s critical to get the right people to run specific parts of the business.”

Burns noted that he went from between $30 million and $40 million in assets under management to $800 million in 10 years.

“It was all about my productivity for the first five years,” he explained. “I needed to change my thinking to where it was more about the overall productivity of the firm. I knew I had built a Ferrari, I just couldn’t make it go until I got the right people in place. We used to be called Burns Financial, but I wanted people to come to us not for John Burns, rather for the experience of the firm, so we recently changed our name to Exencial Wealth Advisors.”

Simon responded by saying he often thinks about how he would roadshow his firm.

“I know what that presentation would look like,” he said. “I would make sure there was not a large concentration of assets with only a few clients, there was recurrent cash flow and it was a sustainable model.”

In closing, Cooper said, “Youth is so important to the success of a firm. Our value proposition, seriously, is the energy, culture and vibe of our firm. Keep it light; keep it fun. We’re located in Southern California, so none of that is considered weird.”

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Read Top RIAs Identify 4 Most Critical Challenges for Advisors on AdvisorOne.

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