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Financial Planning > UHNW Client Services > Family Office News

Brian Adair: The Referral King

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Brian Adair understands the secret to his success—it’s building relationships with other financial and legal professionals. In fact, his entire business has been built on the shoulders of relationships he has with other industry experts, something he realizes is a rarity in this business.

“Almost all of our work comes to us from referrals from CPA and law firms,” Adair says. Some advisors told him if that was his recipe for success then he might want to rethink his career, but the industry referral business has been a boon to Adair.

It’s interesting that Adair is in the business at all. He jumped into financial services late in his business career, but working with seniors wasn’t foreign to him. “My family owns a health-care agency and so I worked with seniors for 20 years, helping them when they were in crisis as far as having loved ones who are ill and who needed that health-care service.”

About 15 years into that aspect of his career, Adair noticed something pretty interesting, a problem that needed fixing. “We were a private-pay agency so I saw these families really losing everything they had worked for when they needed our help and started to have to pay for the care,” he says.

He began putting the different pieces together and saw that “nobody at that time, in my opinion, was servicing the seniors comprehensively and frankly that’s how the whole thing was born,” he says, referring to his decision to jump into financial services.

At the age of 40, he dove into the deep end, going right to estate planning and elderly planning, which is what his firm focuses on today. He knows his turf well. His market is the Allegheny area of Pennsylvania, which is the second oldest county in the U.S., according to Adair. “We have a big pool of clients here who need help.” And many of those clients come from old money, lots of it.

“We represent some very, very wealthy families,” Adair says. “We have some billionaire families that we do estate planning for.” Many of those wealthy clients are 75, even 85 years old and many competitors who have been in the business are surprised that Adair’s able to make the connection so well after less than a decade in the industry. What people don’t realize is, “in reality, I’ve been working with these people my whole life.”

It was hard for some folks to see the connection, but Adair says that health care and financial planning actually have many similarities for him that made it an easy transition. “I think the skill set is fairly similar. We were working with families in crisis, and they were overwhelmed just as the families are now. And, as we all know, they’re all clamoring for income now.”

In all, seniors make up 85 percent of Adair’s clientele. And he reiterates the point of how his business is built. “We meet with families throughout the day, but we are very much not an activity shop. We don’t do any seminars at all. Our families are coming into us referred in a very warm fashion, but when I say I’m meeting with families, they’re already basically on board with us even at our first meeting.”

An early riser, Adair typically starts his day at 5 a.m., studying the market and doing research. Then he goes into the office, meeting with his staff, which includes a CFP. Then it’s on to meetings with clients.

His company has offices in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. “In any given week, I’m probably traveling one day a week to meet with families in those locations,” Adair says.

With everything taking off at this meteoric rate for Adair, you have to stop and ask: “Hey, is there anything that worries you, that keeps you up at night?” His response is pretty matter of fact: “I wouldn’t say worry, but I think anyone that’s in our business has to be cognizant of compliance and the scrutiny the industry has been under. That’s one of the reasons why I’m getting my Series 65.”

With that in mind, Adair stresses how important it is to have that trust factor with the client. “We’re the furthest thing from an asset gatherer. We know our families. I don’t have to open their file to know their story.”

Every year, Adair throws a Christmas party for his clients at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh. Last year, 250 clients showed up. “Our families love us,” he says.

He says to build on that trust he and his firm takes a two-pronged approach: “Number one, we really get to know our families and we do have the intellectual property to understand the legal, the tax and the investment aspects. And number two, what drives them to us is these referrals from these CPA and law firms and knowing that these people cannot afford to lose their principal balance because they’ll never get it back.”

For practice management tips from other top advisors, see SMA’s 2012 Advisor of the Year Finalists.


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