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Does Barron's really have a bead on the best financial advisors in America?

The famed Top Advisor Rankings by State is an established and influential ranking but its criteria are murky and therefore misleading, according to this veteran who also vets RIAs

Thursday, March 21, 2013 – 5:54 PM by Guest Columnist Jack Waymire
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Jack Waymire: Investors are supposed to believe [Barron's picks] produce superior results because they are responsible for large amounts of assets.

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Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 21, 2013 — 7:03 PM

Very few of the Barron’s Top 100 Advisors are in fact advisors, just ask their employing broker/dealer. None will acknowledge the fiduciary standing of their brokers nor that they render advice nor that they are accountable for and have ongoing responsilbilty for their recommendations.

This is why brokers can not be counselors or even use the word counsel.

This is also why the word “advisor” literally entails the rendering of advice which is a fiduciary duty that the SEC, FINRA and the SIFMA should acknowledge and recognize to eliminate the confusion illustrated by the common misuse of the word. If counsel or counselor can not be used by brokers because it implies advice is rendered, then advisor should be treated as the same.

SCW.

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March 21, 2013 — 7:09 PM

LOL. For years I have seen familiar names on this list who were at my own shop. They all had this in common: They were know to be fed new accounts by management, they were actually large teams which provided almost no personal or customized client service, they pushed the firm’s in-house managed accounts because they could not manage assets themselves. I am sure there are a few great advisers hidden on their list somewhere. For those of us who know the list, it is simply a production brag for the firm and recruiting tool for the wirehouse managers.

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 21, 2013 — 7:38 PM

Years ago we recognized the top industry advisors as the Whose Who of Investment Management Consulting later the Society of Senior Consultants which had an institutional bias. 270 members $1.2 trillion in assets, averaging over $4 billion, so the institutional bias was clear.

All these guys had achieved scale and were innovators, with the largest having long given up their brokerage liscenses to avoid the appearance of conflicts. The smaller advisors were brokers with aspirations of becomming advisors. They are now the top innovators in the business.

Perhaps it is time for RIABIZ to create its own top 100 who actually provide advisory services and act in a fiducuary capacity. It would be a very impressive list and a great source of inspiration and emulation for the advisory services community.

SCW

Jack Waymire

Jack Waymire

March 21, 2013 — 8:13 PM

Thanks Steve for clearing something up for me. My next column is going to deal with who can call themselves advisors. We did not research counselors, but your comments cleared something up for me. I could not believe what I found was true. Now I believe it.

James Rooney

James Rooney

March 21, 2013 — 8:43 PM

Jack,

This may be a small detail, but I see you do this in many of your articles from Watchdog (as you did in the article above). You often state that investors should work with, and advisors should be registerd as, an RIA or IAR. It should be noted that an advisor themself cannot be an RIA. Advisors can ONLY be IAR’s. While an advisor may OWN an RIA firm, they are not considered an RIA. Only the firm is the RIA. So even a solo-practicioner is still an IAR of his/her RIA firm. Stating that an advisor is an RIA is incorrect.

Jack Waymire

Jack Waymire

March 21, 2013 — 9:20 PM

I usually refer to advisors the way they refer to themselves. In our vetting we ask advisors if they are RIAs or IARs. Advisors who own their own firm or are partners in a firm invariably answer they are RIAs or they check both boxes. Some advisors are confused by the distinction between the two. They are usually IARs who are registered under their B/Ds’ RIAs. Some do not even know this is the registration that permits them to provide financial advice and ongoing financial services for fees. And, we wonder why investors are confused.

Ric Edelman

Ric Edelman

March 22, 2013 — 12:01 PM

Re the story: Brooke did a marvelous job at fully disclosing up-front the conflicts of interest involved, to help frame the story for the reader. In my mind, Brooke and RIZBiz suffer no conflicts here, but Jack certainly does.

So allow me to state my own conflicts before I go any further. I am ranked #1 on Barron’s Indy list and #1 in Virginia (on the Barron’s state-by-state list) and I’ve been honored to be ranked #1 on both lists for several years. With that disclosure in place, here are my comments.

The column is absurd. Jack calls Barron’s methodology “mysterious” simply because Barron’s doesn’t provide the elaboration that Jack – a competitor – wishes he had. (Jack, if you want the information, go buy the publication from Dow Jones; that way, you’d get all the information you want.)

The column’s use of such phrases as “claims to” and “says”, and the posing of questions without providing the answers, are the tactics that some might label muckraking. A more balanced, informative article would be more appropriate than a column that some might suggest emanates from a dose of sour grapes.

In fact, Barron’s methodology is clearly stated publicly, and readers are free to conclude whether they believe that methodology warrants their attention and approval, or not.

Finally, I flatly dispute the allegation that there is a pay-to-play involved with the Barron’s rankings, and the suggestion that advisors buy research or other services in order to be ranked is insulting. I find the question astonishing since the Worth ranking requires advisors to pay a fee in order to be included (one of several reasons I chose not to participate in that ranking).

Jack, you might have thought you were taking a stab at a prestigious publication, but you actually attacked the 1,000 advisors ranked annually by Barron’s, the firms that employ them, and the many thousands of other advisors who either seek to make the lists or wish they could.

Barron’s is performing a truly valuable – and unequaled – service, not only for advisors but for investors nationwide. Barron’s is to be commended for its efforts and contributions, and should be encouraged to improve, not chastised because of its impact and success.

Ric Edelman
Chairman & CEO
Edelman Financial Services

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 22, 2013 — 12:57 PM

Ric Edelman is not only at the top of the Baroron’s List but should be at the top of the Advisor list which is rare and even more distinctive. He has scale and is at the point of the spear in innovation.

SCW

Jack Waymire

Jack Waymire

March 22, 2013 — 4:13 PM

Barron’s should call its list the “Most Productive Advisors in America” versus the “Best Advisors in America”. The word “Best” implies they are doing the best job for their clients compared to advisors who are not on the Barron’s list. Best implies competitive performance for reasonable risk and expense. How can Barron’s claim they list the best then disclose performance is not a criterion because advisors don’t have track records. Isn’t that admitting they don’t really know who the best advisors are based on results? And, production of assets and revenues have nothing to do with high quality financial advice and services. The fact is, in the financial service industry, big is not always better. Unfortunately, most investors do not make this distinction.

Barron’s did disclose “more than 4,000 advisors” completed their questionnaire. So the 1,000 are the most productive out of 4,000, not the hundreds of thousands of advisors who sell investment services and products. Explain that to the CFAs, CIMAs, and CFPs who are doing great jobs for their clients, but can’t qualify to be on the Barron’s list.

Brooke Southall

Brooke Southall

March 22, 2013 — 5:00 PM

Two of the comments here reminded me of things I was going to say in my preamble before my preamble got too long.

Steve, you suggest that RIABiz do its own Top 100 list. I admit I felt the ground move beneath my feet at that suggestion, knowing just what a bone-crushing task that it is.

I have always liked Schwab’s picks for 'best’ in the sense that I presume they have really had a chance to observe their advisors over years or decades from a favorable footing. Who else can do that?

Ric’s note reminds me that our RIABiz algorithms and Barron’s thresher machine both put Ric near the top of their respective lists.

Ric’s note also reminded me of something I’ve heard a few people say about Barron’s — namely that it could take steps to improve. I find critics are typically very fair overall. They can sense when you’re doing your darnedest and when you could do a little more — both in terms of transparency and processes. My sense is it could take steps to get better and make the RIABizzes of the world look silly lobbing mortars.

Brooke

Jack Waymire

Jack Waymire

March 22, 2013 — 5:41 PM

I believe the use of the word “Best” is misleading for investors. Barron’s uses the word to describe advisors who control the most assets and produce the most revenue. Its list is the top 1000 out of approximately 4000 who completed its questionnaire.

Paladin Registry does not use the word “Best”. It was told by the SEC that it could not use the word because it had not evaluated all of the RIAs and IARs in the industry. Paladin has only evaluated the advisors who have voluntarily submitted data to it (same as Barron’s). Consequently, Paladin’s 5 star quality rating is based on a score that is produced by advisors’ credentials, ethics, business practices, and wealth management services. For example, advisors with more experience score higher than advisors with less experience. CFAs, CIMAs, CFPs, and CPA/PFS’ score higher than advisors who do not hold these certifications or designations.

The reality is no one knows who is best. Financial advisors do not have audited, GIPS compliant track records. Therefore, Barron’s and Paladin came up with alternative criteria for determining who is best or who qualifies for a 5 star quality rating. This should be fully disclosed to investors in bold print so they know “Best” or “5 Stars” does not mean the advisor has produced superior results in the past or will produce superior results in the future.

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 22, 2013 — 7:47 PM

Brooke,

Your unique position in the industry is your constituency of RIAs.

If professional standing and statutory imperative are at odds with conventional commission sales, no one says a thing. Yet you hear the clarity of Ric Edelman’s voice when he speaks the truth about financial planning for the good of the industry—the problem is there is no one on the otherside of the arguement that can or will do anything about it. Our largest institutions are the last to innovate, because as structured today brokers are not accountable for their recommendations nor have any ongoing fiduciary reasponsibility.

In the RIA space there is a need to create a critical mass of like minded people who can be the point of the spear in innovation. The trade associations can not do it because thay have to be so inclusive that anyone can join without any exclusionary qualitative assessment. Thus, the brokerage industry has not been compelled to innovate, not because fiduciary liability, but because professional standing can be achieved without fiduciary standing.

If RiaBiz were to have a simple set of criteria for professional standing requiring an (a) expert authenticated prudent investment process (asset/liability study, investment policy, portfolio construction, monitoring and management required by statue) which makes advice safe to acknowledge, (b) advanced technolgy which supports (i) transparency, (ii) more modern approach to portfolio construction, (iii) continuous comprehensive counsel, all required for fiduciary standing, (d) work flow management tied to a functional division of labor (advisor, CAO, CIO) which makes advice scalable, easy to execute and manage as a high margin business at the advisor level, and (e) the management of conflicts of interest—the resulting criotical mass of advisors would transform the industry overnight. It would facilitate an unprecedented level of investment and administrative counsel at a cost lower than a packaged product, support exeprt standing, achieve three times the earnings multiple than commission sales and unleash transformational free market forces without the conflicts of todays commission sales distribution model.

Today modernity is held capitve by industry self interest that thwart the best intereasts of the investing public.

This critical mass of advisors would be profound. It is an important and necessary step in aligning the best interest of the investing public with a financial services industry that presently is insular to anyadvisory services innovation even those required by Congress.

I am glad help. Brent Boardeski and his Zero Alpha Group colleagues, Fielding Miller at CapTrust, Dick Smith at the CAP Group, Jim Pupillio, Bob Rowe and many, many more would be glad to foster such innovation and the professional standing of the advisor in ways not possible in abroker/dealer.

You ought to do it !!!

SCW

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 22, 2013 — 8:31 PM

Jack,

An investment advisor representative is a selling agent of an advice product overwhich they have little control. The advice product vendor acts in a fiduciary capacity as a money manager but does not support the specific fiduciary duties each broker owes their clients. This brokers selling advice products are not acting in a fiduciary capacity to their clients.

SCW

Jack Waymire

Jack Waymire

March 22, 2013 — 10:07 PM

How can Wall Street sell junk to investors if stockbrokers are held to fiduciary standards? Wall Street firms spend millions of dollars per year on lobbyists who fight mandatory disclosure and fiduciary standards. The good guys (RIAs, IARs, fiduciaries) support full transparency and fiduciary standards because they have nothing to hide. The other guys fight transparency and higher ethical standards because they have a lot to hide.

R Shelton

R Shelton

March 23, 2013 — 9:41 AM

Sounds like Ric took this opinion a little too personally.

I personally spent time at a large wirehouse and shared an office with a member of the Barron’s list. While the “advisor” was an extremely nice person, they also happened to be married to a very high ranking executive in the firm. This allowed the advisor, a mid level producer until the marriage, to gather assets like never before. Smaller advisors sucking at the power Teat offered a portion of their book to join the team. The relationships and connections, combined with eternal marketing and using the wirehouse’s generic plug and play investment allocations got this advisor on the list.

I know nothing about Mr. Edelman, and I’m sure he is a nice guy. But these lists are a complete waste of time for investors, a pure ego stroke for the top producers at their respective firms, and another way for wirehouses to keep their top producers happy enough to continue to stay put instead ofgoing independent for a higher payout and not being “elite”.

Congratulations to all the members of this year’s Barron’s list.

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

March 24, 2013 — 3:25 PM

What is so interesting about this thread is professional (fidicuary) standing is never the criteria used to establish recognition. Assets under advisement without any accountability or ongoing responsibility seems to be the focus. The factual practical criteria which informs us of our fiduciary duties are ignored. There no concern for the fiduciary responsibility for managing cost or a broad range of investmeent and administrative values required by statute, no concern for the absence of the processeses, technology, work flow management essential for the transparency and continuous comprehensive counsel required for fiduciary standing and the well being of the investing public. Thus, recognizing top advisors who have contributed to the professional standing of the industry need to be recognized and honored as they universally have had to swim against the tide of brokerage culture which thwarts advisory services innovation.

The acknowledgment of top advisors based on the nature of their advice establishing professional standing would be a catalyst for excellance in the emergence of advisory services in the best sense of the investing public as the alternative to commisdsion sales.

I greatly encourage Brooke to pursue such a meaninful endeavor as the impact of such recognition would be profound. Brokerage interests would finally understand the highest level of counsel need not be complex, nor expensive, nor limited to those with large assets to invest, but is safe, scalable, easy to execute and manage at a far lower cost than a packaged investment product which can never be personalized.

SCW

Art Kast

Art Kast

April 16, 2013 — 4:32 PM

Looks and sounds like Ric has a very tender ego!

Allain Smith

Allain Smith

June 23, 2013 — 10:26 PM

So Ric, please tell me how you are a better advisor than #2 on the list. Or #3, or #1000 for that matter. If the criteria is so clear, than you should be able to reply to my post and tell me exactly how you are a better ADVISOR. Having more AUM doesn’t make you better, having a larger average account size doesn’t either, since there are others on the list that have higher amounts than you. What, exactly, makes you better? And please quote the criteria from the Dow Jones publication that you are referring to, since you obviously own a copy and this should make it easy for you to give supporting details.

Oh, and by the way, the Barron’s methodology sounds very much like the Five Star Wealth Manager Award that just got its behind handed to it by the State of Washington. I hope that you’re disclosing all of this “completely clear methodology” when you advertise the fact that you’ve “won” the Barron’s award.

Thanks, looking forward to your reply.

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

June 24, 2013 — 2:45 PM

Allain,

You are suggesting that professional standing, universally defined by fiduciary duty, does not make a difference.

The fact that everyone on the Barrons list is mischaracterized as an advisor (which requires the fulfillment of fiduciary duty based on objective fiduciary criteria of statute case law and regulatory opinion letters) does not mean everyone on the list is not a fiduciary. Ric Edelman is a fiduciary to his credit. If you are not aware what that means, he is accountable and responsible for his recommendations, not possible in a brokerage format nor are IARs who are simply sales agents of an advice product over which they have no input or control.

There are very specific duties articulated in an (a) expert authenticated prudent investment process incorporating (i) asset/liability study, (ii) investment policy, (iii) portfolio construction, monitoring and management, which makes it safe for advisors to acknowledge fiduciary status. This is made possible throught the use of (b) advanced technology that (i) facilitates continuous comprehensive counsel, (ii) more modern approaches to portfolio construction that streamlines cost and manages a higher degree of portfolio detail in real time, required for fiduciary standing, (c) work flow management tied to a functional division of labor (Advisor, CAO, CIO) so expert advice is scalable, easy to execute and routinely manage at a very high level, and (d) conflict of interest management which goes far beyond disclosure (acknowledging an abuse of consumer protections) so the consumer’s best interest are being served.

If any of this is unfamiliar to you, it might why you asked the question. This is what fiduciary duty looks like. Your job as a broker is done after you have made a product sale and are paid entailing no accountability or ongoing responsibility.

Ric Edelman should be celebrated as an exemplary advisor to be emulated, not chastized for doing the right thing from those that do not know any better. Just because Barrons does not get it right does not mean Ric Edelman does not get it right.

SCW

Alain Smith

Alain Smith

July 2, 2013 — 12:15 PM

Stephen-

You have missed my point completely, unless you are stating that Ric is the only fiduciary on the list and that is why he is ranked first.

Rather, my point is that Barron’s does not provide transparency and thus there is no way to understand the differentiation between #1 and #2 on the list, #2 and #3, and so on. Please re-read my earlier post and reply on point. What exactly is the criteria that Ric met to end up higher than #2 on the list?

Allain

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

July 2, 2013 — 1:57 PM

Allain,

In terms of assets under advisement, number of clients and level of counsel routinely and consistently provided, Edelman scores quite high. I can’t think of an advisor who primarily deals with individuals who scores higher. There are many advisors that advise more assets, but they typically work with institutions. Isn’t it Barrons responsibility to explain their rankings, not those being evaluated ?

SCW

Alain Smith

Alain Smith

July 3, 2013 — 2:32 AM

Exactly. They don’t explain it and he can’t explain it, but he’s happy to accept the award and promote himself with it, and the public is none the wiser. Shameful.

Stephen Winks

Stephen Winks

July 4, 2013 — 5:42 PM

Alain,

There is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of by being recognized as the top advisor in the industry.

You must be confused as to whom the shame should be attached.

It does appear that your assessment is sour grapes. I doubt you would refuse such an honor.

SCW.

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Joe

Joe

October 8, 2014 — 11:49 AM

AMEN.. the past few years I’ve searched for advisers Return on Investments. I wanna know how much Freaken RETURN they had on their invested assets.
All I could find was BARRONS .. “ Top “ Whatever.. all they showed me is what their Assets was one year and what their Assets was the NEXT YEAR.. Like their increase in customer balances helps me any. Then their article tells me the Return on Investments wasn’t what counted.. it was how everything was ~ Diversified ~
—- Like Diversification will help me any if their ROI is 2% —
I learned my lesson when I tested a WF adviser with my $30,000 Roth IRA. $1,300 increase, $700+ Fees,
Net ROI=Sucks —
Years ago we could find a GREAT list of Advisers Returns.. Anyone have a suggestion on where I can find this info?
Joe_Wht@MSN.com

Joe

Joe

April 29, 2016 — 8:33 PM

When is the biggest of anything the best? It’s usually not the case, particularly of personal services.

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