An RIA Consortium With Management Bench Strength Takes Off

Two executives with deep roots in the registered investment advisor industry are looking to aggregate a broad swath of RIAs in the latest effort to squeeze better deals out of custodians and fund managers.

Steven Lockshin, chief executive of Convergent Wealth Advisors, and Charles G. Goldman, who formerly ran institutional services at Fidelity Investments and Charles Schwab, have launched Advizent. Described on its website as a “membership organization for qualified independent RIAs,” the group aims to use its group strength to drive better service arrangements with vendors, aggregate benchmarking data for members’ use, and ignite a national RIA branding campaign to draw investors to its members’ ranks.

If the website is right, Advizent is off to a strong start; the firm says it’s “rapidly approaching $100 billion of committed member AUM.”

“They’re starting to approach 3, 4, 5 percent of total assets in the industry,” said Philip Palaveev, president of Fusion Advisor Network, with 125 firms and $2.7 billion in assets under management. “That is an amazing amount. If that is indeed the case, they are facing tremendous success. A hundred billion will get you negotiating power anywhere and everywhere.”

It’s not clear whether some of Advizent’s AUM may reflect Convergent’s own assets of about $10 billion.

To sign up, RIAs must have a minimum of $250 million in assets, be fee-only, and meet practice standards that Advizent wants to use to promote its brand as a sort of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” for investors. It sees a vast market of affluent consumers; the website cites a TD Ameritrade statistic that says that 84 percent of Americans don’t know that independent RIAs even exist.

“Via a national branding and marketing campaign, consumers will learn how to differentiate between advisors selling products and advisors providing advice,” the site says.

That kind of marketing is already under way elsewhere in the country. Last year Schwab Advisor Services announced its “RIA Stands For You” campaign to raise RIA awareness among investors. Such national campaigns cost millions of dollars, and it’s not clear how Advizent would be able to afford it; to entice early sign-ups, the group says it's waiving application and membership fees for 2012.

The model, which isn’t taking equity stakes in its membership, looks “new and different,” says David DeVoe of DeVoe & Company, a mergers and acquisitions consultant in San Francisco and former head of M&A at Schwab Advisor Services. “I think it could be valuable for the industry.”

Lockshin and Goldman are “smart, well-respected individuals who have a great network and are speaking with some of the largest firms in the industry,” he added. “Clearly if there was a single organization that controlled $100 billion in assets, that puts that organization in a position of power. A consortium model has different nuances to it, but I think any organization that is interested in the RIA space is going to be interested in how they can collaborate with an organization that has influence amongst very large advisors.”

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