News, Vision & Voice for the Advisory Community
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
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.
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.
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.
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RIA Publication, Blog/Social Networking Tool
Top Executive: Brooke Southall
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