When told in an April interview that the 14th edition of the IA 25 was meant to honor influential people in the advisor community that were a bit “under the radar,” Chris Paulitz of the Financial Services Institute responded quickly. “Under the radar? That’s the way I like it.” And when told he was being honored for his individual accomplishements, he demurred. “I can’t take a compliment” comfortably, he said, owing to having “grown up in Youngstown, Ohio.”
The face of FSI is clearly Dale Brown, who’s appeared on the IA 25 list nine times out of the 14 years the list has been published. Then there’s David Bellaire, the group’s soft-spoken but tough minded general counsel. Or perhaps it’s one of the broker-dealer leaders who have held volunteer leadership positions at the association over the years, typified by current chair and Cambridge Investment Research President Amy Webber.
But there’s been another consistent, knowledgeable and effective force at FSI. Paulitz, senior vice president of membership and marketing, is quietly influential as the head of membership, sponsorship, marketing, communications, media and events for FSI. He started his career as a journalist, and among the media, he’s known as an easy-going, insightful PR pro who’s clearly an advocate while remaining respectful of journalists’ different mandates.
In his position at FSI, which he joined in 2011, there can be different ways of measuring success, but the numbers tell the story for Paulitz: the growth of FSI’s individual and corporate membership, its successful live events for BD executives and advisors and, most important for an advocacy group, its waxing influence in Washington.
Having spent nearly 11 years on Capitol Hill as a communications advisor and director for two senators, Paulitz knows that the most important metric for someone in his position is not which bills or DOL regulations get passed, but to whom you have access. Measured that way, Paulitz is successful and influential.
So what does Paulitz himself cite for his success? He starts with FSI’s relatively small staff of 30 people — “when I started we had 10” — who work “really hard” in a “very strong culture” where “we don’t have infighting,” exhibiting a “professional yet close-knit” community. He said Brown, FSI’s president and CEO, “is highly focused on the culture here,” which takes the form of great member service. “We don’t take any of our members for granted; they all know we’re working for them. When they ask for something — large or small, BD or individual member — those requests don’t sit in an inbox.”
That culture, and his team’s success, stems from FSI’s focus, Paulitz argued. “We’ve never offered anything but advocacy,” but as its individual and corporate members grew, “they asked for more.” FSI rolled out, for example, its “covered advisor plan, which has grown into critical illness and accident insurance.” He reported that the covered advisor offerings have led to former members rejoining the independent BD group.
So where is FSI focusing its efforts these days? “In the states,” where Paulitz said FSI has “full-time advocates on the ground” in four different states and counts advocacy “wins” on independent contractors, business operations and taxes on financial services. While FSI is clearly still concentrating on advocacy at the federal level as well, he said that because in D.C. “gridlock is so bad, states are taking a much more active role because they can’t wait for Washington.”
He’s also not resting on FSI’s membership growth laurels. “It’s great we’ve got a lot of members,” he said, “but not all of them are engaged.” If they’re “highly engaged, we’d be unstoppable, in both D.C. and the states.”
See the 2016 IA 25 homepage for more on why this year’s honorees were chosen and what the honorees are thinking and doing.