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Practice Management

Planners give their best advice for building a successful practice, from handling the unexpected death of a partner to upgrading tech.

This Practice Management article is intended for financial advisors only (registered representatives of broker/dealers or associated persons of Registered Investment Advisors).

As business owners, RIAs are constantly evaluating their businesses and what they need to do in order to remain competitive today and in the future. In this constantly changing industry, the quest for ideas and insights to help inform these decisions has never been stronger.

Here are a few insights from successful firm leaders who have taken steps to strengthen their businesses through business development, strategic planning, and driving scale. These pointers are adapted from the book, Be Greater: Why Being Good Enough Is No Longer an Option, volume 2 (Fidelity Investments).

1. Upgrade Technology to Help Drive Growth

Pamela Hardin, president of Foundation Wealth Management, has seen healthy growth in the business every year since she started her firm. That said, to break into the next level of assets under management, she realized that she needed to upgrade her technology platform with newer, more cutting-edge capabilities that would enable her team to complete tasks in an efficient manner. After investigating several options, the firm chose an all-in-one platform that provides both the needed functionality and integration.

What Hardin says:

“When I started my RIA, I was using software that I was familiar with from my days at a large wealth management firm. A number of years later, it became clear to me that parts of my platform weren’t user-friendly, and other parts were becoming outdated. In addition, there was no integration, so we were doing double entry all over the place. As a small firm, it was clear that we needed to upgrade if we wanted to grow.

“You need to think about how staff will be trained and steps you should take to have the new software become part of the fabric of your firm.

“Powerful technology can be great, but people and technology need to work together for success.”

2. Don’t Be Caught Off-Guard

Mitch Reiner and his partners at Capital Investment Advisors realized that they needed a comprehensive business-development plan that broadened their thinking so the firm’s operations wouldn’t be jeopardized by concentrating on just one main activity. They selected four different avenues to pursue, and established an objective to gradually expand their sources of new business over time.

What Reiner says:

“The unexpected death of a partner caught us off-guard. We hadn’t taken steps to develop a strategy that could insulate us from such events.

“We now create a new strategic plan every three years that has one-, three-, and five-year goals… Each partner takes on a set of responsibilities, and we review our progress on a quarterly basis. A large part of our strategy centers on the growth of the firm.

“We created what I call a four-legged stool that will keep us standing if any leg is knocked out. The stool is made up of media, referrals from clients and centers of influence, general PR and marketing, and ancillary businesses.”

3. Tap New Talent to Help Expand the Business

Sy Lippman, CEO and senior managing director of L&S Advisors, and his partner have worked together for many years and have seen their business go through numerous transitions in response to different market conditions and new opportunities. They have owned and run an RIA for the past decade, specializing in portfolio management, and are now distributing their investment strategies through third-party channels. They have also added financial-planning skills to the firm so that it will be in a position to discuss the broader set of issues clients often face beyond their investments.

What Lippman says:

“A few years ago, a seasoned adviser joined our firm who had a significant impact on our marketing efforts. We are portfolio managers first and foremost, and he saw an opportunity to distribute our investment strategies through the broker-dealer network to other advisors.

“We also brought on board an individual who had been an on-air personality, producer, and writer for a sports TV station and who had a lot of contacts with athletes... He has successfully translated his skills for entertaining and educating sports fans to the world of finance, making what can often be a daunting investment process both inviting and comprehensible for clients.”

4. Reinforce Your Brand with Community Connections

Jordan Smyth, the managing director of Edgemoor Investment Advisors, recognizes that community involvement can be personally rewarding, while, at the same time, providing an opportunity for people to interact with you outside your work environment. He believes that assisting others through external activities is an important way to help build a strong brand.

What Smyth says:

“Over time, we have come to realize that [volunteering in the community] provides a great opportunity to combine important community service with networking that can reinforce our brand and create a good name for our firm and for each of us individually.

“We are trying to get to know people and have them get to know us. Longer term, there may be business opportunities that come from that.

“Our aim is to meet individuals throughout the community and to be helpful in any way we can. We want people to know who we are and to think highly of our firm because they have worked with us in different situations and had a positive experience.”

5. Build Out Your Organization

Kevin Fitzwilson and the team at Coldstream Capital Management have been making purposeful moves to enhance the firm’s infrastructure and service offering to better meet the needs of their clients. To date, they have added access to alternative investments and a portfolio of mortgages on single-family housing, as well as insurance consulting.

What Fitzwilson says:

“We have an overarching philosophy: The types of initiatives we pursue must be unique, a differentiator, and world-class in their own right. Each must be something we would use for our clients, whether we own it or not.

“We’ll continue to evaluate opportunities that allow us to extend our capabilities with people who share our values and culture.”

—by Bob Oros

Bob Oros is executive vice president and head of the registered investment adviser (RIA) segment for Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions, a unit of Fidelity Institutional.

The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be legal, tax or investment advice. The information contained herein has been provided by sources other than Lord Abbett which are believed to be reliable; however Lord Abbett cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information.

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