Financial Advisors: What to Look for in a High-Performing Independent RIA

By Certuity

As a financial advisor, you have no doubt witnessed the sea change happening in wealth management. More and more advisors are making the switch from traditional banks and wirehouses to independent RIAs.

They are doing so for a variety of reasons: to grow their book with entrepreneurial autonomy, to leverage sophisticated tech and the full range of “agnostic” investment solutions and to elevate their client service. Ultimately, advisors are making the jump to have a greater impact on their businesses and on behalf of their clients.

While the independent RIA space is proving attractive, with more than 15,000 RIAs in the U.S.[1], it can be overwhelming to evaluate firms and find the best fit. To help, we’ve shared the key attributes advisors should look for when searching for a high-performing RIA:

1. A culture that sets you up for success

  • Entrepreneurial. If you want to join an RIA to grow your book on your terms, be sure the firm supports advisors in being entrepreneurial. Testing for this quality often requires evaluating the firm’s team, benefits and leadership. Are their advisors ambitious and high-performing? Will the firm pay for you to pursue ongoing education like certifications or coaching? Does the RIA provide the flexibility to build a business that fits your lifestyle? Does leadership invite advisors to weigh in on the firm’s investment solutions and growth strategy?
  • Client service. When bringing your clients over to a new firm, you’ll want to ensure that they receive an elevated level of professionalism and care. Take note of whether the firm is held to a high standard of client service and responsiveness. What is the retention rate among existing clients? What range of services does the RIA provide, and what resources and services does it extend beyond its core offering? 

2. Tools to accelerate your growth

  • Cutting-edge technology. For advisors to effectively serve clients and grow their business today, a tech-enabled operation is table stakes. Does the firm offer business development tools like lead intelligence to identify and qualify potential clients? Can the same be said for customer success tech like a CRM to organize and automate client communications? Do they provide a seamless online experience, as clients today expect, like an online portal with a consolidated view of their finances and e-signature capabilities? Do your due diligence to ensure the RIA has invested in its tech stack. 
  • Brand, marketing and sales. With how vast the RIA market is, it’s crucial for firms to build a strong brand to inspire trust and stand out to potential clients. Does the firm have a polished and consistent online presence, like a website, blog and LinkedIn? Do they go after industry awards and media coverage to raise their visibility? Be sure to look for firms that also have sales and marketing teams whose job it is to increase awareness, generate leads and engage clients for you and the firm – allowing you to focus on your primary role of managing clients.

3. Expansive in-house resources to unlock value for clients 

  • Family office. High-net-worth, and to a greater extent, ultra-high-net-worth, clients often require a holistic approach to wealth management that extends beyond investment advice. For this reason, look for RIAs that provide family office services in addition to a core wealth management offering. If they have a family office, does it address the full range of clients’ complex needs, like comprehensive financial reporting, tax strategies and multi-generational estate planning? Consider the services your own clients may benefit from.
  • Alternative investments. Growth-oriented RIAs provide access to solutions in both the public and private markets. High-net-worth clients in particular seek out RIAs that can construct diversified portfolios that are uncorrelated to public market performance. Vet whether the RIA provides access to alternatives across asset classes like private equity, venture capital and real estate, especially ones that are traditionally inaccessible at other financial institutions.
  • Best-in-class research. Having access to deeply nuanced investment solutions doesn’t just happen. It takes intensive research. Does the firm have experienced researchers and analysts on staff who continually scour for the best possible investment opportunities and products? Does the RIA make these researchers fully accessible to clients, or do they work closely with advisors to ensure the best outcome for client portfolios? Look at the size, rigor and availability of the firm’s in-house research team. 
  • Extensive ecosystem. Finally, the best RIAs foster an interconnected ecosystem of investors, centers of influence (attorneys, CPAs, trust and estate professionals, and top-tier managers) and client families. Ask the RIA whether they have a network of these strategic partners to ensure you can offer your clients diverse expertise and innovative opportunities while building your referral channels and reputation at scale.

Are you an advisor who’s looking to join an RIA? Visit our Careers page or contact Certuity to explore your next move with us.