Michael Kitces, director of research for investment advisory firm Pinnacle Advisory Group, co-founder of the XY Planning Network for financial planners, founder of the popular Nerd’s Eye View blog at Kitces.com and one of the most prolific writers and speakers on the evolution and practices of the financial planning profession, will join Focus Financial-owned Buckingham Wealth Partners as the head of planning strategy, the firms announced today.
Additionally, Jeffrey Levine, the CEO and director of financial planning for registered investment advisory firm BluePrint Wealth Alliance and the director of advisor education (and "Lead Financial Planning Nerd") at Kitces.com will join Buckingham as the director of advanced planning.
Both Kitces and Levine will be leaving their current RIAs for the new positions. Kitces said he was joining Buckingham to help it continue to build out and implement financial planning strategies with a strong foundation in research, and help the firm strategize growth opportunities around those concepts.
Buckingham Wealth Partners is the recently rebranded entity that includes the registered investment advisory firm Buckingham Strategic Wealth, as well as Buckingham Strategic Partners, a turnkey asset management services provider for independent advisors. Buckingham Strategic Partners was born out of the merger of the TAMPs Loring Ward and BAM Advisor Services in 2018, a move fueled by BAM majority owner Focus Financial's public offering.
Buckingham Strategic Wealth is a $15 billion RIA firm with 140 advisors in more than 40 locations around the country, many of whom were rolled up into the entity as a succession-planning solution for advisor clients of former iterations of the TAMP. The RIA charges an AUM fee for investment advisory services and offers additional services around wealth planning—what it calls "Practice Integrated Wealth Management and Financial Planning"—for a flat fee, ranging from $150 to $825 a month. Those services consist of cash-flow planning, budgeting, college planning and insurance and estate planning. Kitces has been a longtime advocate for the need to decouple financial planning fees from those charged for investment services.
The TAMP Buckingham Strategic Partners has $3.6 billion in discretionary regulatory assets under management, and $15.5 billion in nondiscretionary assets, as well as providing administrative and back-office and retirement plan services to $15 billion in assets managed by independent clients.
In total, both Strategic Wealth and the advisors who use Strategic Partners as a TAMP collectively manage or administer more than $50 billion in assets as of the end of last year, according to Buckingham executives.
The move puts Kitces in the same orbit as Larry Swedroe, the chief research officer for Buckingham Strategic Wealth and an advocate of "evidence-based investing," or investing strategies built from a deep foundation of research into the markets. Swedroe, popular with independent advisors, is the author of more than a dozen investment books.
Kitces said he saw his role with financial planning, in essence, similar to what Swedroe has done with the investment side; that is, let an extensive dive into the research guide and inform the financial planning process and how financial advisors conduct their own operations. Adding broader wealth management expertise to advisors using the traditional TAMP offering could be a step forward.
“The market tends to reward certain factors with risk premia and return enhancement. But a bunch of investors may have personal beliefs, invest accordingly, and may not win,” he said. “When I look at financial planning, I still see an environment similar to investing.”
Kitces said the partnership stemmed from a long-developing friendship, and many conversations, between Kitces, Levine and Adam Birenbaum, Buckingham’s chairman and CEO.
As Levine’s role expanded at Kitces.com, the pair thought that it might be preferable to work with one advisory firm, so as to avoid conflicts of interest between the two. Additionally, Buckingham Wealth Partners gives the duo a larger perch to influence the direction of the industry.
“We all talk in the industry about the emergence of national RIAs, mega RIAs, that can break out with national reach and scale and create national brands, and I wanted to be with a firm that can do that and achieve that vision,” Kitces said in an interview with WealthManagement.com. “Who is large and ready to go to the next level?”
Kitces hoped to begin with offering the educational content he has developed with Levine on the Kitces.com site to advisors and clients in a practical way, similar to what they have done at their previous firms. Kitces said he would particularly focus on business and corporate strategy, to ensure the firm is well positioned beyond the immediate state of the industry, as well as to help develop the firm’s growth strategies, both organic and inorganic.
Birenbaum, who took over the reins at Buckingham 10 years ago when it was still a small office in St. Louis, said the call from Kitces and Levine to signal their availability and interest in pursuing a relationship was “a once in a career phone call” for any firm operating in the RIA space, calling the two advisors premier talents in the financial industry.
“It’s times like these where talent and thought leadership are more important than ever,” he said, citing the ongoing volatility in the markets. “This is Buckingham going for it. This is Buckingham making a bet that if we add value to the lives of advisors they’re going to do a lot of amazing things to help a lot of clients.”
Kitces was happy that Buckingham included younger, forward-thinking executives in leadership, saying that as he and Levine are in their 40s and 30s, respectively, they were trying to make a decision for the long term.
“When we looked out and said where can we go for the next 20 or 30 years, Buckingham has a next generation leadership team,” Kitces said.