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Joe Duran of Rise Growth Partners

Practice Management > Building Your Business

Consolidation Meets AI at Industry Event

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Before a summer conference pause, a major advisor event recently wrapped in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The WealthStack conference, in its third year, was dominated by the growing impact and integration of artificial intelligence as well as the accelerating consolidation of the wealth management industry through mergers and acquisitions.

Given that backdrop, it was no surprise that the opening keynote was a fireside chat with Joe Duran.

Duran gained prominence over the past decade by building United Capital, one of the largest RIA firms, through acquisitions, then selling it to Goldman Sachs for $750 million. At the time, it was thought that this deal would be a preview of the independent space being gobbled up by deep-pocketed Wall Street.

Recent events, however, provided ample evidence to dispel that notion. Most notably, Goldman made a 180-degree turn to sell United Capital to Creative Planning, a mega-RIA.

Duran, back with his latest venture, Rise Growth Partners, delivered a strong message that inorganic growth is no longer a viable strategy. 

“There are many hidden costs to M&A that most people don’t realize, such as the added overhead of running the new location, which can easily surpass $250,000 per year,” he said.

Duran described the private equity firms driving mergers and acquisitions as “economic creatures” forcing change in the form of installing controls that may not be consistent with the ethos of the independent space.

He added that in the ultimate doomsday scenario, there may not be a final exit for PE sponsors and their acquired companies, as these PE firms are merely recycling equity by selling their acquired companies back to each other.

Instead, Duran believes that the game is all about organic growth. 

“If you are not prospecting and marketing at least 30% of your time, you are falling behind,” he warned.

As the industry has become more competitive, with an emphasis on taking business from each other, Duran believes that firms need to build a differentiated brand with a distinct client experience as well as having operational expertise to improve margins.

On a similar note, one of the more engaging panel discussions featured deal experts at some of the most active M&A-focused firms.

“There is a new dynamic in the industry that sellers now need to compete for the attention of the professional buyers and be able to showcase their unfair competitive advantage as well as organic growth capabilities,” said Kevin Corbett, managing director at Mariner Wealth Advisors. “Without those, we’ve walked away from hundreds of deals.”

AI Integration

The main technology theme at the conference was how artificial intelligence will affect advisors’ interactions with clients and processes to run their businesses.

John Froese, director of Google Cloud’s North American banking organization, reassured the audience that Google would not be going into financial services, but he did say that Google was a “cash management company” with $120 billion on hand to manage and invest. 

“We look at companies and industries and attempt to find a way to solve problems,” he said. “AI will have a dramatic impact on the delivery of financial services and those companies, and people that are early adopters of AI will have a distinct competitive advantage. AI will not replace you, but someone using AI will.” 

In order to harness the capabilities of generative AI, people will need to practice and reimagine workflows, he said. 

“AI can be an incredible enabler, and prompting is the new superpower,” Froese said.

Oleg Tishkevich, CEO of Invent, a cloud technology and consulting firm, featured Invent’s “super app” platform for wealthtech and asset management firms.

Invent Village provided an immersive and interactive experience that enabled conference attendees and exhibitors to see dozens of innovative technology solutions being built on the platform. Firms such as Envestnet, Redtail and Allianz participated in the Invent Village.

“We’re building a unique community of the leading vendors popular with advisors,” Tishkevich said. “As we grow the Invent Village, look for it to be a mainstay at all of the industry’s leading events.”

On Operations

Rounding out the conference were a number of operational discussions, including a high-profile panel of chief technology officers and chief operating officers from such leading firms as Shufro Rose, Dynasty and Captrust.

Vib Arya, Shufro Rose’s COO, noted that organic growth was a top priority for his firm, with a focus on freeing advisors for business development by investing in technology, automation and data management. 

The technology and operational pros also discussed finding ways to leverage their customer relationship management systems to better track and manage data, and they were all hoping for improvements in client access.

 “We have way too many portals for clients,” Arya said. “If the industry could come together to develop just one central portal, we would all get behind that.”

Personnel Changes

People moves were also front and center at WealthStack, with some high-profile hires and departures announced at the event.

These included MarketCounsel hiring Anthony Stich as executive managing director and DeVoe & Co. bringing in Charles Schwab veteran Tony Parkin as its new president.

Martine Lellis was promoted to Mercer Advisors’ M&A team, while the biggest news of all — Bernie Clark stepping down after 25 years at Schwab — dominated the many receptions and after-hour gatherings.

Pictured: Joe Duran

Timothy D. Welsh is president, CEO and founder of Nexus Strategy, a leading consulting firm to the wealth management industry.


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