Growing Your Practice

Eight Traits of Highly-Successful Advisors

In the evolution of practice-profitability, turn up the future, turn off the past

by Mitchell. H. Caplan

Mr. Caplan is CEO of Jefferson National. Visit

The advisor industry continues to evolve as innovation disrupts the status quo.

Advisors are facing new challenges, whether they are harnessing the power of technology, confronting the prevailing downward pressure on fees, managing the impact of demographic shifts, or mastering a fast moving market.

What has worked in the past may not necessarily work in the future. But for those who can evolve with the industry, there will be greater opportunities ahead.

In our recent Advisor Authority study1 of 535 RIAs and fee-based advisors nationwide conducted by Harris Poll, we examined the issues that advisors care about the most.

The vast majority believe that the profitability of their own practice will increase over the next 12 months. Supporting a movement to greater simplicity, transparency, choice, and ultimately the creation of greater value, RIAs and fee-based advisors are driving this change – and helping to create the future.

Advisor Authority

To help all advisors learn more from the thought leaders and innovators of our industry, Advisor Authority focused on three segments of successful advisors:

  • The High Earning Advisor
    Those advisors with personal yearly income of over $500,000 from their advisor business. Most of these advisors are marketing innovators and forward-thinkers regarding technology.
  • The Advisor with High AUM
    Those advisors who individually manage a total AUM of $250 million or more. These advisors tend to be more tech savvy than the typical advisor.
  • The Tech Innovator
    Those advisors who plan on integrating new technology in the next year, use 7 or more software applications, have a strategy to enhance integration of technology and software, and spend over $50,000 annually on technology.

As we studied these three segments – evaluating their approach, their areas of focus, and their use of technology – we identified eight traits of highly successful advisors who are driving change in our industry.

  • Become an expert
    Target clients who are in a specific profession, specialize in a particular type of service or experience, or become a subject matter expert. The planner who can work with everybody ends up working with no one. One of the advisors we surveyed, Drew Bottaro, vice president and senior financial counselor at Weston Financial, echoed that sentiment: “Our strategy focuses on targeting the right opportunities, rather than trying to capture them all.”
  • Be a Technology Innovator
    Industry studies showing that advisors who effectively leverage technology achieve greater efficiencies, serve more clients and run materially more successful practices than those who don’t. Advisors with high AUMs spend more on technology than the average advisor. They also use more technology to make their job more seamless. To them, the only thing more expensive than adding technology is not adding technology.
    Your relationship is with the people who own the assets, not with the assets themselves
  • Be a Marketing Innovator
    Successful advisors communicate the way that their clients want to communicate. They continue to adopt and integrate with new technologies that their clients are using. But remember – at the end of the day, people still want to talk to people. “Marketing is not a department at our firm–marketing is the way we operate,” says another advisor in the survey, Michael Grossman, president of AdviceOne Empowerment Coaching LLC and AdviceOne Advisory Services LLC.
  • Go Mobile
    Growth comes from the power that you can hold in the palm of your hand. Clients and advisors alike are connected, but not tied down, to their offices. Anywhere you go at any time, you are connected to your clients. As new technologies are being integrated into practices, mobile features – especially mobile applications, smart phones, tablets, and cloud-based solutions – are becoming increasingly important.
  • Be a Client Advocate
    Your relationship is with the people who own the assets, not with the assets themselves.
    Do what is purely and utterly in the client’s best interest. You and everyone on your team should be focused on retaining clients and creating ambassadors. Again, from Michael Grossman: “If you and everyone on your team is focused on retaining clients—retaining ambassadors who will shout from the rooftops how great their financial advisor is—that’s when your marketing goes through the roof.” Satisfied clients are happy to pay you more and refer you more often.
  • Retain Heirs
    “First, we determine where the wealth is coming from,” says Drew Bottaro, when determining if the heir will be a suitable client for his firm. “Is it earned by the heir? Is it cascading down? Is it from a multi-generational wealth system? Next, we support that with a multi-person engagement team in which we pair clients and heirs with counselors of different ages.” Focus on the right opportunities. Heirs leave because no one was thinking about them. It’s that simple.
  • Ruthlessly Refine
    Make the investments and take the deliberate cuts that will free up the time to deal with the challenges, take advantage of the opportunities and actually work on your business. One example is the use of industry technology. “We’re seeing more and more industry studies showing that advisors who effectively leverage technology are running materially more successful practices,” says Michael Kitces, partner and director of research at Pinnacle Advisory Group. “Technology lets you do more awesome stuff for your clients.”
  • Risk Happens
    Diversify and hedge portfolios with liquid alternatives and different risk streams like tactical fixed income, tactical all-asset and managed futures. In the face of volatility, there is still an opportunity to participate, to protect and, most importantly, to prepare the client.

The industry is evolving. And RIAs and fee-based advisors have every reason to be optimistic.

Because as the world gets more complex, the opportunity for advisors to provide holistic planning and guided advice continues to grow. Likewise, more clients recognize—and demand—the value of transparent and unbiased financial advice.

Adopting the eight traits of highly successful advisors, advisors of all sizes and at every level of experience can navigate this changing landscape to build meaningful relationships with their clients, drive greater growth for their businesses and ultimately create greater value. ◊



1 – Advisor Authority Executive Report: Innovations and issues that RIAs and fee-based advisors care most about.