With our inauspicious 2009 start year long gone, we see the chance to achieve a bigger destiny as RIAs rise and legacy publications embrace pay-for-play content models

August 10, 2016 — 7:18 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

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Publications started during a fearful 2009 by ex-reporters who live on houseboats with bad Wi-Fi, and who know nothing of software, monetizing a business or whether a critical mass of RIA readership exists, don’t labor under the burden of expectations. See: Welcome to RIABiz on day one.

But seven years later, from a perch in RIABiz headquarters in Mill Valley, with sustainable revenues, a solid Comcast connection, a fast-growing advertising staff, clicks galore, a team of software developers in Toronto and a growing pool of knowledgeable editors, columnists, and reporters who contribute to covering one of the hottest sectors in American business — the view is quite different.

In 2016, our mindset is determined more by a sense of how much there is to gain than how little there is to lose. Raised expectations are now our biggest problem, so to speak but preferable to any of the alternatives.

In 2009, the embarkation for a greater destiny for RIAs was epitomized by entrepreneurs who broke off brokerage assets from large-scale operations to deliver better financial advice to clients as registered investment advisors. Legalized larceny aided by aloof wirehouses who paved the way with a Broker Protocol. See: Broker Protocol signings regain momentum amid new signs that the wirehouses could shut the breakaway portal.

But then they began to find ways to find scale again within the RIA model. See: What exactly is an RIA?. There were the RIA roll-ups emerging but also the super-ensemble RIAs that managed $1 billion or more in assets and employed large staffs. See: How a swath of billion-dollar-plus RIAs are posing a threat to indie advisors.

$4.5 trillion and counting

That scale story continues to play out and it has been enriched by an even more creative salvaging of Wall Street as more of its people are lured to RIAs and the businesses that serve RIAs. A whole crop of RIA purpose-built software providers from Black Diamond and Junxure to Tamarac and Orion have outpaced their mom-and-pop beginnings.

The hot new thing today is bringing technology from Silicon Valley that incorporates the end investor more in its AI thinking. It’s robo, digital and automated. It’s all those things and it’s being funded not by RIAs, but by private equity money from outside. See: The 19 ways private equity has juiced up the RIA business and how it’s working out.

The RIA business, now hovering at close to $4.5 trillion of managed assets, has a great tradition of learning on somebody else’s dime, but always getting the chief benefit of all that innovation — often for free.

The wirehouses are looking at how to become RIAs. Schwab and Vanguard have already become RIAs. See: Vanguard virtual RIA’s growth rate plummets from 50% to 32% with a staggering consolation — another $10 billion in AUM since January. The best people on Wall Street, people like Anne Robinson and Sallie Krawcheck are finding their way to the RIA business. Great entrepreneurs like James Herbert who made a First Republic into a national community bank for the wealthy is also busily building the biggest RIA. — and using the most Silicon Valley of software in Addepar.

Even Mark Zuckerberg is — in the biggest way — into the RIA game. See: How the Facebook IPO is creating the mother of all RIAs, Iconiq, and what an in-your-face it is for Wall Street.

Labor days

The Department of Labor joined the party this year with its new rules, making itself the great proselytizer of fiduciary ideals to those who would not otherwise listen — starting with the fence-straddling 401(k) business and fanning outward to retail stockbrokers with their IRA accounts — now re-classified as retirement assets — that can no longer by managed as play money under the FINRA fiduciary standard. See: The short scoop on Wall Street’s claim that the DOL rule is too long.

Our chief writers today are Lisa Shidler, Irwin Stein and me. Off to law school is Sanders Wommack. Natalie Carpenter is pitching in a few articles. Great contributions were made this year by Scott MacKillop and Davis Janowski. Each has a promising new venture.

Dina Hampton is our chief editor and Keith Girard, my mentor back in Baltimore, has begun to contribute his artful editing. Sophia Noto is copyediting between babysitting gigs on her time off from college.

Tim Welsh remains an irreplaceable conference reviewer columnist with his immense powers of observation, knowledge and ability to put it all down on paper. See: Feeling RIA custody oats, Dan Skiles and Peter Mangan attract smaller RIAs but big-name lights to SSG event.

Min Zhang and Amy Parveneh, our L.A. team, have contributed a handful of powerful articles. Paul Kingsman, Ryan Hughes and Scott Oeth wrote RIA autobiographies that readers are still commenting on. Mike DiGirolamo just published his epic account of getting out of this business to reach even higher. See: What exactly led to a Raymond James lifer morphing into a cooking school proprietor in Italy.

Infinite possibilities

Last fall we added Graham Thomas to our advertising crew and he wasted no time distinguishing himself by bringing great new advertisers but also a willingness to pinch hit as a writer when he is on the road. See: At mostly morose Morningstar conference, mutual fund wholesalers play cards face-up on perma-dislocation — and the glimmers of hope that innovation provides. He will be joined on the East Coast by Robin Riley, who sold advertising for years for Financial Planning magazine.

Frank Noto holds down the West Coast advertising territory, but his duties evolve daily to a more general management of an increasingly complex RIABiz enterprise.

He gets help from our Bellingham, WA -based team of John and Dawn Kodin who service the RIABiz directory and sell advertising to some of the listing customers who want to move beyond that marketing incubator.

Our chief web developer, Terry Hong, has added Steve Ferreira to his team up in Toronto. Their big projects this year have included article pages that scroll infinitely. They are working on a new site architecture that borrows from a Facebook concept and it should double or triple the speed at which our pages load. Hong is aided by our web designer, Kelly Krill.

Stay the course

I continue to put my biggest energies into writing articles, editing articles and writing notes on top of the articles. My objective is to continue to make RIABiz an obviously good way for people in the financial advice business to spend a few minutes of their day. One way I seek to accomplish this objective is to continue to defy an easy definition of exactly what we are — part trade publication, part blog, part think tank and part community.

The only way to fuel all those creative outlets is to tap into an energy source and we have a live one — the RIA business, its people, its unstoppable momentum and the opportunity for unabated storytelling in the unfettered atmosphere of a website where journalistic standards are king.

Our articles won’t be confused with press releases, get obscured by takeover ads, be interrupted by pay walls, or be cheapened by the presence of sponsored content pretending that it’s not pretending to be real.

RIABiz articles will stand apart from the wire services or Bloomberg articles geared toward the end investor.

We’re just not going down that Garden Path attracting purposeless clicks and selling them to oblivious advertisers.

If you keep rewarding us for keeping the focus on you, the solar system that has RIAs as its sun, the least we can do is repay your loyalty by staying in the right orbit. See: RIABiz turns six, with plans to keep riding an ever-swelling RIA wave.


Mentioned in this article:

RIABiz.com
RIA Publication, Blog/Social Networking Tool
Top Executive: Brooke Southall



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

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Kap'n Kranky said:

August 11, 2016 — 1:42 PM UTC

Congratulations. It took a lot of hard work.

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Rick Meigs said:

August 11, 2016 — 2:28 PM UTC

Congratulations on turning seven and continuing to publish good, insightful material. Well done and here’s to another seven.

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Andy Sharp said:

August 11, 2016 — 3:16 PM UTC

RIABiz has been a staple for me since I came across the site in early 2010. I have learned a lot from the articles and I think it helped shape the position I’m in today. When I came across the site, I was working as a Director for a TAMP, bX Asset Management, a subsidiary of brokersXpress. Once our parent company was acquired, I continued to stay on top of the latest developments in technology and industry trends through this website. When it was time to move independent again, the infrastructure and vendors I had in mind were brought to light to me through RIABiz. There are many of us who find much of this information very useful in building our practices and preparing for the future. The independent analysis is also key. Congratulations on the milestone and keep up the great work.

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John Donovan said:

August 11, 2016 — 5:42 PM UTC

Congratulations. I’ve been reading since the beginning. Still finding great value.

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Paul Damon said:

August 11, 2016 — 8:03 PM UTC

Wow, recalling your 1-yr anniversary story, well, I’m feeling old! Congratulations Brooke and the expanding RIABiz team. Thanks for keeping us abreast of the latest exciting RIA happenings, digging in deeper than most other outlets and for keeping the industry honest.

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Jeff Spears said:

August 11, 2016 — 9:54 PM UTC

Brooke you are the maestro. You and your team ask good questions and get to the bottom of the story.

Thanks and Happy Anniversary

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Dave Waluk said:

August 12, 2016 — 9:23 PM UTC

RIA Biz is an exception to the rule In an era where real, insightful news is scarce or hard to find in the minefields of clickbait headlines on many 'news’ sites. What your 'super powers’ are—- your deep knowledge of the industry, your willingness to invest the time into research and writing deep and revealing articles, and your prosaic article intro’s which help provide context, and sometimes intrigue. I’m fortunate to be a corporate neighbor to RIA Biz and often see Brooke walking the dog or Frank on in his private office (ie sidewalks in downtown Mill Valley). Keep up the great work and the journalistic integrity.

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Jud Mackrill said:

August 16, 2016 — 3:37 PM UTC

Congratulations Brooke! We wish you the best and look forward to the next seven years.

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Gregg Robins said:

August 30, 2016 — 3:41 PM UTC

So happy to see this, Brooke, and to be associated with such an outstanding publication and business. Hats off to you guys for charting and staying the course. Even from thousands of miles away and deluged by materials I always keep my eye on your pieces! Much continued success!


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