Starting Your Own RIA Firm

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Many talented professionals some day dream of having their own business. In the financial industry this usually means being the trusted advisor and investor on behalf of individuals and small businesses. The CFA Society Chicago and its Professional Development Advisory Group assembled a panel to offer insights for people who are considering exploring this possibility.  This panel of experts was composed of the following RIA professionals:

Jenifer Aronson, CFA – Ms. Aronson, moderator of the panel, is managing partner with Mosaic Fi, LLC. Ms. Aronson is a member of the Steering Committee for the CFA Women’s Advisory Group. She works with family offices and high net-worth individuals. Prior to Mosaic, Ms. Aronson has over 20 years of experience with Northern Trust and Brinson Partners.

Chris Abraham, CFA – Mr. Abraham is founder of CVA Investment Management. Prior to founding CVA, he held positions at Nuveen Investments, Anderson Tax, Mercer Investment Consulting, Intel Corporation, and Ariel Investments. Mr. Abraham left Ariel to found his own investment firm.

Gautam Dhingra, CFA – Mr. Dhingra founded High Pointe Capital Management. Prior to founding High Pointe he spent most of his career at Hewitt Associates. Mr. Dhingra has served as a Lecturer of Finance at Northwestern, Chairman of CFA Society Chicago, and on the Board of Regents for CFA Institute. Mr. Dhingra left Hewitt to found High Pointe.

Robert Finley, CFA, CFP – Mr. Finley is Principal of Virtue Asset Management. Prior to founding Virtue, he held positions in wealth management at LaSalle Bank and at TIAA-CREF’s Trust Department. Mr. Finley founded Virtue after leaving TIAA-CREF.

GJ King – Mr. King is President of RIA in a Box. Prior to RIA in a Box, Mr. King held positions at Goldman Sachs serving as an advisor to high net worth entrepreneurs, families, and foundations. RIA in a Box currently assists nearly 1,500 RIA’s in helping to overcome the compliance challenges of having your own RIA firm.

Ms. Aronson began the discussion by asking a series of questions of the panel members. Below is a list of those questions and the responses of the panel.

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Why did you start and what was your biggest concern about starting?

The panelists were certain that they could provide a better investing experience for their clients. The people they were recommending on behalf of their employers appeared to add little value. Their corporate jobs were becoming more demanding, but their salaries were not reflecting the added responsibilities. They expressed a fascination with the markets and a drive to obtain upper quartile performance for clients who would put their trust in them.

Their biggest concerns revolved around their families and the fact that they would not have a reliable paycheck for some time.

How did you develop your firm?

Panelists talked about a wide range of service providers that can be utilized. Interviewing managers and hiring the right legal help is critical. It is important to determine what fee structure will be needed given your costs. If you need a Bloomberg machine, that is a significant cost.  You can find firms that can provide all the services you need, or you can parcel it out.

What is a day in the life like?

The panelists stressed that there are two separate but critical roles, marketing and investing.  People with investing talent tend to spend too much time in that role. More time is needed in marketing which means finding potential clients amenable to your sales pitch. You must be able to separate cold leads from warm leads. Traveling is also essential to meet clients and evaluate companies you are thinking of investing in.

What questions should people ask themselves before starting an RIA?

Do you want to be an entrepreneur? You must be motivated to sell and be willing to hustle to accumulate assets. Has your family bought in? The few years will be difficult; can you handle the ups and downs? There is a leap of faith to leave an established firm.

What would you do different?

Look for partners, mentors and advisors, don’t be afraid to engage others. A trusted partner to share the burden would be a valuable asset. Don’t be afraid of compliance, but keep it lean. The client is trying to evaluate if he can trust you, you must be able to show responsible reporting and compliance.

What was your biggest surprise?

Institutions can be more short-sighted than individuals. Retail clients will be more loyal. The ups and downs were tougher than the panelists first thought they would be. People will be more helpful than you think. You must be disciplined in spotting bad deals and being able to say no.

How did you build your book?

The panelists stressed that you must be adept at marketing, or find someone who is. Friends, family, ex-colleagues, and people you have had relationships with over the past five years are potential clients. Walk-ins must be able to find you. How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? If you have an edge in substance and style they will remember you. Can you get to the point where you can withstand a 50% hit in a bear market?

Current Market & Regulatory Environment

GJ King of RIA in a Box pointed to three regulations that directly impact this industry and that may see significant modification in the near future.

  1. DOL Fiduciary Rule. This rule will require that most advisors must be in a fiduciary role for their client. If implemented this should have little effect on RIA’s, but may be more disruptive to broker/dealers. This rule is facing delay and possible modification.
  2. Repeal of Dodd Frank. Modification may include that funds that previously were required to register with the SEC may be relieved of this burden.
  3. A new Form ADV will be required by October 1st. RIA’s will be required to reveal more about their company.

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Mr. King also spoke briefly about the need for a chief compliance officer (CCO) for every RIA firm. Typically the CCO is also the principal of the company. Companies with over $500 million in assets under management are required to have a full time CCO.

There was a brief Q&A session following the panel’s presentations that touched on the following topics:

  • CFAs are exempt from passing the Series 65 exam in Illinois.
  • Liability insurance is relatively cheap and does make sense.
  • Disgruntled clients can be avoided by doing quality control on prospective clients. Agree up front on what is expected of you.
  • Robo Advisors have not been disruptive to this industry. They have affected the brokerage industry.
  • Although the target market may be 60 years of age or above who have the most accumulated assets who are 60 years of age and above, do not leave their children out of the discussion as they are future clients.

The Art of Negotiating Compensation: Getting Paid What You Are Worth

Laurel Bellows is the Managing Partner of her namesake, boutique firm, The Bellows Law Group, P.C. whose practice areas include Executive Compensation, Business Consultation, Business Litigation, Employment Law & Human Resources, and Personal Legal Services.

Bellows focused on tips and topics for negotiating compensation packages, yet frequently widened the scope by noting these strategies are applicable in any type of negotiation.

dsc_3183A key takeaway was preparation is power. Bellows suggested writing out your own, ideal or dream deal to have as goal which you can test to ensure your expectations are realistic. Likewise, one must also take into account whether or not the company’s goal to determine your performance/bonus is also an achievable goal. To assist in this process, Bellows had a novel approach. In addition to using resources such as trade associations, public data (if one is lucky), and informational dsc_3159interviews, she suggested a brainstorming session. Inviting friends over for a candid discussion and feedback over drinks could enhance your preparations.

The key to negotiation is determining what you are worth, regardless of previous earnings. Determine your level of responsibility, skills, and efforts beyond simply whether you are generating a cost or revenue. Ideally monetizing your value will create leverage. More importantly, it will establish a connection to the employer’s perspective with your understanding of the position and potential role in the greater organization. Nevertheless, employers’ key challenges remain; identifying, motivating and retaining talent.

dsc_3162During the initial negotiations, if the employer asks for your compensation target, then assure them that they can come to an agreement. Emphasize you are really interested in joining the team and would prefer an offer before discussing specifics. With an offer in hand, force the employer to specify the numbers of the compensation package first. With a significant pause and a flinch or “hmm…,” counter with a nearly “blush-level” offer. From this dsc_3167point on, your research and preparation becomes your support to confidently negotiate with informed certainty. You have anticipated their counter argument and able to support your case. You may concede a lower initial package if you can have a six-month performance review to have the opportunity to earn a package closer to your initial offer.

Finally, always have a best alternative at any moment. If you are fortunate, it may be taking an offer from different employer or realizing the negotiation will not end in an agreement and walking away.

Check out Laurel’s 10 pointers below:

Bullets by Bellow: 10 Pointers for Successful Negotiations

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare
  • Determine the extent of your counterpart’s authority
  • Set a precise goal. Be able to justify your goal and quantify your demands
  • Put your dream agreement in writing
  • Keep your best alternative in mind
  • Identify other party’s principal goal and best alternative
  • Role Play: Practice your questions. Anticipate answers to questions you will be asked
  • Strategize Timing
  • Your name and your reputation are inseparable
  • Remember: Not every negotiation ends in agreement

Building My Brand: Soft Skills for Success

DSC_2838What is the difference between our social selves and professional selves and why would it ever be bad to be social? What do we need to be successful financially and professionally? Melissa Ford, a business and life coach helped us develop an outer focus leading to success and better outcomes.

DSC_2841The social self is the self that is created as we grow up. It is likely created by authority and is reactive, self-focused and needy; sometimes even to the point of being creepy. It represents the inner fear and doubt we might feel when our manager indicates they want to talk to us or when we are in a new group and want everyone to like us. Our professional aura concentrates on serving, contributing, being confident and creative. At the center of the professional self we find power, focus and energy. We are the creators of our professional selves.

So if the professional self is better for success, how do we shift to it and what should we be aware of? It is a doing versus being problem. Tips that can help us get into this mindset and stay there are as follows:

  1. DSC_2842Work on active listening skills. Move out of broadcast only mode.
  2. Put yourself in situations with people who are in professional mode.
  3. Work on empathy and give yourself a break. This may take time and practice.
  4. Notice how you feel and when you catch yourself in social mode, move to professional mode.
  5. Roleplay your professional self and then make adjustments based on feedback.

Melissa told us that the best thing is to just “flip the switch” and turn on the professional. We will know that we are in our professional mindset when we start overriding pre-programmed responses and we can do this easily on difficult days like Monday mornings. It’s all about getting out of the comfort zone.

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Creating a Stronger Career by Building Your Personal Brand

DSC_2568Managing a brand comes down to two main points:

  • How do others talk about you?
  • And even more importantly: How do you talk about yourself?

Executive coach and Make the Leap! Coaching founder, Curt Wang, brought powerful insight into how financial professionals can learn to brand themselves by finding their strengths and unlocking what they really want out of a career. As he made his way to the stage, Samantha Grant, CFA joked that “Curt is an overachiever and should fit in well with this crowd.”

Curt says “A lot of people hear the word ‘branding’ and say ‘Isn’t that something that corporations do?’” Corporations are certainly at the forefront of branding and messaging, but it’s essential for individuals to find their own brand identity too. Branding helps employers, clients and colleagues visualize who you are and what you do well.

“When you hear the word Volvo, what comes to mind?” Curt asked. “Safety,” everyone shouted out. What about your name? What do people think when they hear your name? There was a pause as the audience contemplated the question. Curt continued. “There are five tests of a great brand,” he said.

  • Value
  • Fit
  • Credible
  • Unique
  • Sustainable

DSC_2575If others don’t know what makes you unique as a person and as an employee, they may pass you by. Sears was one of the top retail outlets in the country for years. Now they aren’t. What changed? They tried to be all things to all people. Whereas most shoppers know that Home Depot is the best place for building supplies and Best Buy has all the latest and greatest electronics, Sears tried to do it all. This left a fuzzy impression in shoppers’ minds about Sears and what it represents. Sears represents an example of a bad brand strategy, the opposite of the clarity found in Volvo’s clear “safety first” messaging.

For those in transition, Curt advised them to not “use all of your best contacts right away, when you’re the least clear about yourself and what you want to do.” Instead, first you ought to figure out what your brand is and exactly what kinds of jobs you are targeting, thus avoiding the fuzziness that comes without having a clear brand identity. Every time you are networking, they really are interviewing you even if they say that they aren’t. If you do a good job and wow them in the conversation, then they may pass your name on to a hiring manager.

Curt showed a series of stock images of doctors and asked us which one we would choose. The audience was about an even split between the choices, with some selecting one because “he looked smart” and others choosing an older doctor because he “looked experienced”. The lesson was that if you don’t manage your brand, people will make assumptions about you. Your position or title alone is not your brand. It’s certainly part of it, but not all of it. Focus on your unique strengths and sell that to employers.

DSC_2572There is a sea of change currently taking place within the corporate world and how young people approach work. Specifically, within Big 4 accounting firms Curt noted that in the past you would see four out of five young hires looking to work their way up the ladder to make partner, working long days and nights in order to make that goal a reality. Nowadays, Curt says, four out of five young Big 4 hires do not want to make partner, with many desiring a different career path entirely. Some employees focused on work / life balance may only wish to work 40 to 50 hour weeks compared to the 80+ hour workweeks other associates might labor through in order to make partner. The shift in thinking has happened because there used to be one well-defined path to the top, and now there are many paths to success. Not all of these paths involve working long hours for many years at a single employer.

In building your brand, your number one goal should be articulating what you are great at. Companies actually want employees to take control of their career because it creates higher engagement and reasons to stay at the firm, not employee turnover as you might initially suspect. In order to articulate what you want from your career, it might be helpful to recall some of your favorite things that you have worked on and why. What do those favorite projects say about you and your ideal career? What strengths did you exhibit during these projects? When did you feel like you were ‘in the zone’ while working? What would it take to become a world-class version of yourself? What would others say you are the go-to person on and why?

After discussing these questions in small groups amongst ourselves, Curt left us with some homework. We were to determine what our top five strengths are, figure out what are our transferable skills for future opportunities would be, and answer the following:

What are the three main components of my personal brand positioning?

  • I am an expert in _____
  • The value of my expertise to people / organizations is _____
  • I am uniquely qualified because _____

For professionals of all career levels, developing branding skills is a great way to sharpen our focus for job opportunities, determine our passions, and further engage with our work. Curt gave us the tools to do just that.

For more information, please visit http://www.maketheleapcoaching.com/.