Haas business school professors will orient consolidator's RIAs toward new ways of looking at growth

February 25, 2010 — 5:36 AM UTC by Brooke Southall


Brooke’s Note: United Capital has invited its partner RIA firms from around the country to convene at the Haas School of Business, which is part of the University of California, Berkeley. RIABiz will be there to hear lectures and interview and photograph the RIAs and executives comprising United Capital. Clearly the sessions are not intended as some educational fantasy camp. Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital, sees this as an investment in an important shift at the company toward growing its partner firms. But you don’t start adding partners without some training about how to structure your firm to absorb more talent. The Berkeley professors will lay the groundwork for that process to begin.

I’ve been writing about Joe Duran and his Newport Beach, Calif.-based consolidator, United Capital, for several years but I have never met the leader, his RIAs or his colleagues [like Matt Brinker] in person.

The company is admired by many people in the industry and I look forward to getting a first-hand look. It’s considered a rare example of a roll-up that works. Of course, Duran, United Capital’s CEO, doesn’t consider it a “roll-up” at all. His plan to bring his firms to Berkeley to learn about business management shows, it seems, that he’s putting his money where his mouth is to create a true organization.

A recent letter that Duran distributed explains the company’s ambitious objectives and makes clear what has drawn its principals and executives to the Haas School of Business.

Stopped being a start-up

“This was the year our firm stopped being a start up and we needed to evolve to a more scalable national operating company,” he wrote. “We have laid the groundwork for that to occur; we have fantastic offices around the country with brilliant, dedicated people who genuinely care for our clients and each other. We are building on our ongoing growth strategy for all of the firms that are with us, helping with generating new clients with local and national institutional referral partnerships and by developing a national acquisition strategy into the local offices. Our goal is to establish our partner firms into the dominant market leaders in their respective cities and to help build several $5 to $10 million offices in the next few years.”

Here are a few items to bring you up to speed on United Capital:

It added nine new offices this past year, reaching 21 offices around the country and over 150 employees. Its assets and revenues grew by over 90%.

10 new metro centers

It added another top tier institutional investor — Bessemer Venture Partners — to invest $15 million alongside Grail Partners. “We are expecting to add at least ten new metro centers to our current base of over twenty offices,” Duran writes. “Our goal is also to use the proceeds to help expand our established metro centers via acquisitions.”

The latter objective is largely what is prompting the training in Berkeley.

Mentioned in this article:

United Capital Financial Advisers
RIA Welcoming Breakaways
Top Executive: Joe Duran

Share your thoughts and opinions with the author or other readers.


Mike said:

February 25, 2010 — 3:19 PM UTC

United Capital has an exciting mission and Morningstar Office is proud to be part of its software and technology solution.


Stephen Winks said:

February 25, 2010 — 4:13 PM UTC


Joe has done an incredible job in establishing a core business model that adds value relative to the advisors former practices. United Capital advances a consistent advisor value proposition built around a centeralized CIO function which not only creates scale beyond the ability of the under resourced practitioner but generates superior client performance which is even more rare.

If United Capital were to formalize its asset/liability study, investment policy and portfolio construction and management functions by creating an audit path to statute, case law and regulatory opinion letters in support of fiduciary standing going beyond the 40 Act for managers to UPIA and ERISA for advisors, it would defacto become the leading firm in the industry in advisory services, importantly with the means to prove it.

Presently all major financial services firms have put their advisors in an untenable position where the firm maintains the advisor does not render advice and considers it a violation of their internal compliance protocol for their advisors to acknowledge their fiduciary obligation to act in the consumer’s best interest.

If United Capital were to safely bring fiduciary standing within the reach of every advisor in a scalable easy to use and manage format, every advisor in the industry whether an established RIA or a disenfranchised broker would clamor for it without hestitation.

Market leadership is not comming from FINRA or the SIFMA who represent convention and status quo, it will come from firms like United Capital which view disruptive innovation as a means to win market share.



Kevin Hollingsworth said:

February 25, 2010 — 7:28 PM UTC


I have two questions for you:

1) Why do “roll ups” typically not work?
2) Is the United Capital event closed to the public?




Brooke Southall said:

February 26, 2010 — 6:45 PM UTC

Hi Kevin,

Yes, the United Capital event is only for its own financial advisors.

The question of why roll-ups don’t work is an even better query than you think. The term roll-up is associated with an aggregating entity that does nothing but take a series of autonomous businesses and puts them under a single ownership umbrella. They fail because they lose the entrepreneurial edge of being small companies without gaining the efficiencies of being part of a big company. The failure rate is very high historically.

The roll-ups that succeed tend to integrate the businesses that they acquire culturally and otherwise. But the companies that pull off this feat do not consider themselves roll-ups.

So it’s a tricky semantic issue. Journalists covering financial advisors call the various serial buyers of RIA practices roll-up because it is a short, descriptive word. Words like consolidator, aggregator and holding company sound like the companies that buy railroads or shipping lines to me.


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