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Editor's Letter: Growing Pains

The inaugural Wealth Management EDGE conference, held this week in Hollywood, Fla., takes the topic of RIA growth center stage.

At a recent asset management conference, a panel dedicated to building a modern advisory practice focused on three millennial financial advisors, each running their own RIA.

All were prolific Twitter posters and spoke fondly of the community they engaged with on the platform (presumably, a social media presence is a big component of a modern practice). They spoke about the joy of being a confidante to their clients, helping them see that life is about more than money, and the importance of maintaining positive, healthy vibes with lots of gratitude for each other and the efforts they’ve launched to help other advisors find the same path.

The level of assets they managed, their growth plans or their trajectories were never addressed. There was a sense that such concerns—the actual business of the business—was an old-fashioned mindset that doesn’t jibe with today’s brand-forward advisor.

One of panelists said that the benefit of his practice, in fact, was not having the pressure to grow. He claimed many younger advisors have discovered they prioritize the freedom and flexibility of running a small, manageable RIA over the soul-numbing career paths and treadmill institutionalization of traditional financial services.

These used to be called “lifestyle practices.” The 10-year bull market of ever-rising equity markets helped fuel the trend for these AUM advisors. For advisors of old, the trailing 12-month commissions on a mutual fund provided a lot of lifestyle freedom—once a practice was up and running. The question of whether these kinds of priorities are best for the client is another discussion.

Intentional growth is important—some argue essential—particularly in wealth management. Competition from outside players is accelerating. Advisors who want to do the best for their clients are realizing that they need access to resources; that includes time, dedicated client-service teams and a network of specialists on call in areas like investments, taxation, estate planning and retirement. An advisor can’t both “do it all” and “do it well” for their clients. And consider this: Turning a practice into a professionally managed—and growing—wealth management business is essential if an advisor ever decides to monetize their life’s work.

This issue arrives just before our inaugural Wealth Management Edge conference, where the topic of RIA growth takes center stage. The conference will bring together hundreds of advisory firms that are growing by mission and design—or have the desire to—to learn from each other.

It’s particularly exciting because it’s really three events in one; the gathering of growth-minded advisory firms, what we call RIA Edge, will be sandwiched between two legacy conferences that the current Informa team inherited: Inside ETFs, for asset managers and investment professionals who serve advisors, and WealthStack, which focuses on financial advisor technology and practice management.

These two groups can learn a lot from the larger advisory firms they want to serve; and growth-minded advisors, with lots of open runway in front of them, can meet the asset managers and technology providers that can help them take the next step. There is plenty of information on our website. I hope to see you there.

David Armstrong

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