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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

How (Not) to Name Your Advisory Firm

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It’s a question many advisors face when starting a firm: “Should I incorporate my name into the company brand?” 

In the financial world of Charles Schwab, Edward Jones, Raymond James and the like, advisors’ first instinct may be to name it after themselves.

But is that always the best idea?

Blu Giant, a creative marketing and branding firm that works solely in financial services, works with many of firms going through the naming process.

“More and more of the projects that we’re taking on, the name is part of the discussion,” said Christopher Norton, creative director of Blu Giant, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor. “What we’re really seeing is that more and more people are going away from naming the firm after themselves. When you think about the long-term evolution of a firm, it’s a lot easier to plan your exit strategy when it’s not named after you.”

Blu Giant has worked with about 250 different firms at various levels over time. Right now they have around 20 open projects, four of which are branding projects.

Bringing in a new partner, selling the business and planning for succession are all things that become difficult when a firm is named after a founder.

“It’s a more difficult transition if it was ‘Christopher Norton Investments’ and now I’m going to sell it to Michael Jones over there than if I had named it ‘Blu Giant’ and Christopher was just replaced by Michael,” Norton said.

Rather than naming it after themselves, founders are choosing names that have meaning.

“The trend that you’re seeing in company names across all industries: There are less and less things that are being named after an individual because they want what they’re creating to be bigger than themselves and live on past them,” Norton said.

He said the same is true for the financial firms Blu Giant has worked with.

“I will say that a lot of the firms we are working on that are newer or just starting up, I can’t think of a single one that has named it after itself,” Norton said. “They all have names that were built for their client.”

One of the firms Blu Giant has recently worked with is Pathwise, an RIA firm that primarily works with medical professionals.

Ryan Wells, co-founder and chief executive officer of Pathwise, discussed with ThinkAdvisor the process that went into finding Pathwise’s name.

“When we built Pathwise, we wanted a brand,” Wells told ThinkAdvisor. “And when you think about most of the modern major brands, they’re not named after [the founder]. It’s not like there’s a company called Jobs. It’s called Apple, right? It’s a true brand that is transient to change to whoever it wants.”

In Wells’ first foray into financial services, he called his company Wells Financial Group.

“That was just something I came up with and I was in my very early 20s and I thought that would be a good thing to call it,” he said.

After receiving advice from a business coach, Wells decided to steer clear of using his name in future endeavors. “She said, ‘The reality is that things change, partners can come and go, the vision of your company may change, the direction may change. What may have suited you in the beginning is not going to suit you in the future,’” Wells remembered. “I took that advice very seriously. The reality is, even if you’re a small firm and it’s just one person like it was for me, if you believe you’re going to be in this business and you’re passionate about it, there’s a decent chance that you’re going to bring on other people, maybe even a partner.”

That’s why when Wells was forming his new firm (now Pathwise) with co-founder Arek Puzia, they wanted a brand name that offered flexibility and consistency.

“We wanted [the name] to have flexibility,” Wells said. “If we continue to grow and we bring on a third partner, the name doesn’t change. That brand still stays consistent.”

To find its name, Wells and Puzia used an online crowdsourcing company-naming tool.

“Because we felt we were very unique and wanted to separate ourselves from most financial firms we actually told them, I don’t want any financial terms in the name at all. I don’t want something ‘wealth management,’ I don’t want anything ‘capital management’ or ‘capital advisors.’” Wells said. “We just wanted to have a single, easy-to-recognize name.”

Once they received the crowdsourced list of potential names, they narrowed the list to three names and then sought feedback from their top clients.

“It all came back to Pathwise,” Wells said. “And we asked why? Because we felt it was the best one, too. And, they said, ‘[W]e’re on this path or journey in life, and along this path is going to be decisions, forks in the road. And we’re hiring your company to help us make wise decisions when we come to forks in the road. This reflects the type of relationship we have with you.’”

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