News, Vision & Voice for the Advisory Community
After a year of formation, it's full speed ahead
August 5, 2010 — 5:18 AM UTC by Nevin Freeman, Elizabeth MacBride, Frank Noto and Brooke Southall
Brooke’s Note: RIABiz is a year old. It feels like there was never a time when I wasn’t ensconced in this venture. It also seems like only yesterday that Nevin Freeman, our chief technology officer, moved into my houseboat [last July] and vowed to stay until we got the website launched. Each of us four partners has offered thoughts here about what comes to mind as we look back at the past year or more. The first thing in my mind is gratitude for everyone who has helped or just offered warm encouragement.
Brooke’s Story: The Idea and the Team
Marcel Dawson of RIA Marketplace and some public relations people remind me that last year I kept saying that RIABiz had a 50-50 shot of survival and that I’d reassess whether to continue after a year. I said this to ease expectations and because we started the publication at the trough of the worst recession since 1929 – one that was particularly terrible for media, to boot.
Secretly, I preferred the economic malaise. It made us learn how to sail in light winds. Whatever success we accomplished would result from meeting a real need and any temptation to coast would be minimized. We are still very much a start-up but there is no chance – after a first year that beat expectations – that any of us at RIABiz are wondering whether or not to proceed. It’s full speed ahead.
We are starting to see cash flow but more importantly we are being swept up in the enthusiasm of our readers, sources, advertisers, columnists, guest columnists and people who write thoughtful comments about the articles they read. Our directory is also showing good growth and life and we have plans to make it more interactive.
The vision for RIABiz came about very simply. I wrote about registered investment advisors for InvestmentNews from 2000 to 2008. I was arguably the only RIA Reporter on the planet. This gave me the insight to understand that retail, 401(k), hedge fund and even institutional money is all headed toward being managed under this model.
After I left InvestmentNews, I pitched news articles on the subject to the various publications in the industry – and was surprised to find they had little interest in running them. [To be fair, this was partially because freelance budgets at the trade magazines were radically slashed in March 2009].
What I considered the most important stories in the financial advisory industry were going untold — or told in ways that missed the point. The article ideas were burning a hole in my editorial pocket. For the first time I seriously considered starting my own publication — but realized I couldn’t do it myself.
I first reached out to my former InvestmentNews colleague, Frank Noto, about the realities of selling advertising. He was extremely positive. I reached out to my cycling community for names of people who could build a web site where I could put these articles. I was introduced to a tall, thin cyclist from Oregon named Nevin Freeman. I tried to think of someone from my editorial past who could write, edit and roll with the punches of starting a business.
Elizabeth MacBride was the only name that came to mind. She was, ironically, my first colleague when I took my first job at the Central Penn Business Journal in Harrisburg, Pa. in 1994. I was the York, Pa. bureau reporter. She covered Lancaster. We worked for a tenacious editor who expected us to break every business story in the area, despite competition from several big daily papers. We didn’t always win but the determination to try made that paper a success and it set a standard for us personally about how to serve readers. We will continue to work to bring that spirit to coverage of RIAs and the explosive growth and transformation that the industry experiences every day.
Nevin’s Story: The Little Project that Grew
When I first got together with Brooke to discuss his website idea I wasn’t sure I even had time to take on another web project. We met at a coffee shop and he showed me the print and web versions of InvestmentNews and Registered Rep in order to explain the industry he had been writing about for quite some time. He told me he had never found a website that he liked … and that he wanted me to make one that he would.
It didn’t take him long to paint me a clear picture of where the industry was going, and by the time we said goodbye that day I had a hunch that this would be more than the regular freelance web project. Still, I had no idea how involved I would become!
The obvious route was to set Brooke up with WordPress and send him on his way, but I decided to take a gamble and build the site up from scratch so that it would be extendible in the future. After a couple of months of development in my spare time, we launched RIABiz from Brooke’s houseboat in Sausalito, Calif. The benefits of starting from square one have really started to show, with the directory as the central example.
Since the launch I’ve gotten a window into both the RIA world and the world of online journalism. It’s been great fun working for such a small company; in addition to writing code I get to think about business strategy, do some light editing, and in a pinch even write whole articles.
I can’t wait to see where we’ll be one year from today.
Frank’s Story: What Makes RIABiz Different
In all my years of selling advertising, I’ve never experienced such an enjoyable situation as the past year with RIABiz. When Brooke first approached me over 1. 5 years ago, the theme of our conversation was to launch a site that was different, and not just the same old format that every other publisher was currently doing in the market. So, while the market was waiting (and still waiting!) for print budgets to come back, RIABiz has become one of very few sites that is focused on giving advisors what they really want and not what most publishers think they need.
The initial feedback from the advisors has been so positive. The evidence of that is that RIABiz’s traffic numbers continue to climb. After one year, we have almost 15,000 unique visitors monthly, and each month we continue grow! The response from the advertising and marketing community has been extraordinary, and it is the result of RIABiz providing an environment not available anywhere else in the marketplace.
Our advertisers during this first year have shown tremendous support from the beginning, and we want to thank all of them:
Trust Company of America, RBC Advisor Services, Morningstar, TD Ameritrade, Schwab Advisor Services, Fidelity, Northern Trust, ByAllAccounts, Jefferson National, Franklin Templeton, Wells Fargo, Orion and Pershing. And, there are more coming on board starting in September. We truly appreciate their biz!
Elizabeth’s Story: So … What Does RIA Stand For Again?
My life right now might be best expressed by a number: Two.
I have two children, two mortgages, two almost full-time jobs, and I wish there were two of me.
When Brooke sent me an e-mail about working with him on RIABiz, I’d been working from home as a freelancer for more than five years. I stepped off the career track in 2004 to spend more time with my first daughter, Lillie, who was then eight months old. Two years after Quinn came along in 2007, I was beginning to think about stepping back on the ladder.
I missed being out of the management mix and spending time with colleagues. The world of journalism was in the middle of a revolution, and I was sitting it out.
Brooke’s e-mail was a tantalizing proposition: I could continue to work from home, while helping to create what could be a cutting-edge business web site. The only catch: I knew nothing about RIAs.
I attended the conference of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, which was coincidentally being held across the Potomac River at the Gaylord National Resort. I found a group of friendly, committed people with a shared interest not only in how to grow their businesses but in how to best serve investors.
More research, and talking with people in the industry, convinced me that RIAs were on the leading edge of a shift away from the traditional ways of managing money. That signaled to me that the growth prospects for RIABiz were good. Maybe more important, I agreed with what I was hearing from people: that money ought to be managed by advisors who weren’t beholden to Wall Street firms.
What convinced me to join RIABiz, however, was working on a series of stories that Brooke wrote about the Hou-Sear breakaway. We had agreed that I’d edit the stories as a sort of trial: Would we be able to work together?
The depth of his reporting reminded me how good a reporter he is and his willingness to try a big, risky narrative piece made me think that we could produce truly high-quality journalism together. Read that early Hou-Sear story and let me know if we succeeded: Merrill Lynch stars take a leap of faith to a new office — and independence and Hou-Sear team can’t always beat RIAs so it joins them and Hou-Sear team makes house calls in five states.
Meeting Nevin and Frank convinced me that the quality was across the board in our small company.
What’s been most exciting to me over the past year has been watching RIABiz evolve into a site with an intimate connection with a small group of readers and advertisers. We think of ourselves as a community newspaper for the RIA business. By various means, from the quality news to the comments section to the RIABiz Directory, we are creating a rich environment for advisors to find the information they need and want.
Meanwhile, history continues to overtake the financial services business. I’m convinced that independent advisors are the model that will carry the industry forward. See Improbable win for fiduciary standard: Congress set to hand SEC power to impose fiduciary duty on broker-dealers. It’s become a privilege to chronicle that story as it unfolds.
PS. I’m thanking my husband, Steve, for the support during the past year when I’ve worked many late nights. To keep those two mortgages paid, I’ve kept my freelance business going while putting many hours into RIABiz. That’s the final two in my life: It’s certainly taken a team of two in Alexandria to support my role in RIABiz.
Elizabeth’s note: RIABiz is celebrating with an anniversary party on Aug. 21, kindly hosted by Nexus Strategies LLC in Larkspur, Calif. We’ve sent invitations to many friends and supporters, especially those in the Bay Area. If we missed you, and you’d like to come, please drop me an e-mail at Elizabeth@riabiz.com.
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RIA Publication, Blog/Social Networking Tool
Top Executive: Brooke Southall
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