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Pioneers Reveal How a Desire for Personalization Can Be a Real Driver

By Thomas Coyle May 25, 2018

Market forces aren’t the only spurs to innovation. In wealth management as in other spheres, business leaders often shape their companies to fit with long-cherished ideals, hard-earned insight or highly personal needs and preferences.

Last week, for example, William Hamm confirmed he’s taking Tampa, Fla.-based Independent Financial Partners off LPL Financial’s hybrid RIA-and-brokerage platform to establish his own RIA and brokerage.

Coverage of this move has focused on IFP’s plans to use its greater independence to provide the 500-plus independent advisors it supports with pricing breaks, custody agnosticism and more responsive service. But the move also reflects Hamm’s personal desire to lead the kind of firm he, a former frontline FA, wished were around before he took the helm at IFP in 2002.

As a "plug-and-play environment" where the platform "systems belong to the advisor, not us," the new-look IFP "is going to be one of the easiest firms to leave," Hamm tells FA-IQ. "Our aim is to be as unsticky as possible, so we’re not tying strings to anything."

Hamm believes the new structure also lets IFP provide its FAs with more clarity on its operations, including insight into its finances. "We’re making it so our advisors get transparency on our cost margins, so they can see where we’re making money and see where potential conflicts lie," he says.

In this sense, adds Hamm, "I think some of the things we’re doing are at least minimally disruptive" to the wealth management industry.

Besides fulfilling a personal quest to empower independent-minded FAs who want a degree of institutional support, Hamm says taking IFP fully independent puts the business on firmer footing for a handover to his family’s next generation.

"It’s a family deal here," says Hamm, whose son Chris Hamm is IFP’s chief operating officer, and whose wife, Karen Hamm, runs the firm’s human resources.

Peter Raimondi is another veteran advisor and firm owner whose latest move has turned heads.

Raimondi last week launched Dakota Wealth Management in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with business partners Michael Reed as chief operating officer and former Oakmont Partners principals John DeSimone, Peter Mawn and Mimi O’Bara – who folded their Peabody, Mass.-based RIA to make the move – rounding out the new firm’s management team.

Topline, Raimondi led the effort to found Dakota – so named because the word means "friends" or "allies," says Raimondi, not because of any particular ties to the upper Midwest – as an antidote to over-mechanized approaches to wealth management.

At a time when algorithm-driven robos are front and center as an industry solution, Raimondi says taking a very "personal approach with our clients so we can be sure their unique circumstances and special objectives and risks are met makes for a more solid long-term practice."

Raimondi sees parallels between the medical profession, which he says has become increasingly automated, and wealth management, which he views as following suit.

"Medicine is very impersonal, and it’s getting to be that way for those of us in wealth management," Raimondi tells FA-IQ. "We want to be like an old-time doctor" for clients who aren’t "willing to accept mediocrity."

But Raimondi isn’t just any RIA starter. With successful startups in the Colony Group and Banyan Partners under his belt, it’s tempting to guess the sheer thrill of starting something new is what motivates him now.

Raimondi isn’t hostile to that idea, but he suggests it needs refinement. It’s more accurate, he offers, to view his serial entrepreneurship as attempts to improve on the last mousetrap.

He left Colony Group, which he founded as a tax-oriented firm, to respond to marketplace demand for more holistic approaches to wealth management, he tells FA-IQ. In turn, he left Banyan (after selling it to Boston Private) because he didn’t have the transition team to keep pace with the firm’s rapid inorganic growth.

"We found it difficult to assimilate our acquisitions," he says of his last years running Banyan as a standalone firm. "And when we made three acquisitions in 2014, that became very problematic."

This time out, Raimondi says he enjoys the “exciting” prospect of working with partners "who’ve signed a check to be in this," and whom he says have the commitment and experience needed to help him identify acquisition targets – assuming such opportunities present themselves – that make cultural as well as business sense.

A few weeks ago Lee Rawiszer led his independence practice, the Westport, Conn.-based celebrity wealth management firm Paradigm Financial Partners, off Kestra Financial’s support platform to its own RIA.

Rawiszer says he had a very good experience with Kestra — going back nearly to the founding of that firm’s legacy parent NFP Financial in 2003. But he says the move to full independence as an RIA was the best way for him and his partners to make sure their clients get the custody-neutral service they need as well as to facilitate hires, acquisitions and geographical expansion, especially on the West Coast.

In addition to those business considerations, however, Rawiszer sees the move from Kestra as “a step in my evolution as an advisor.” Though he says he felt very independent with Kestra, “running an RIA is necessary for me and our clients at this stage” — not least because it underlines the idea his clients always come first.

“It’s a necessary transition.”

Roger Moss, managing director of Montville Financial Group in Montville, N.J., certainly knows about that.

“I didn’t leave Ameriprise on bad terms,” the former branch manager says of his move to establish his own firm in 2016, by which time he was already a 23-year industry veteran. “I just felt it was time to build a business myself.”

William Hamm

Moss adds that a number of personal considerations also came into play. Happiest advising, Moss says his branch-manager responsibilities prevented him from working one-on-one with clients. Working “outside the corporate structure” would also enable a better work-life balance.

But Moss says establishing Montville Financial Group also let him realize his vision of building a street-level, storefront firm that’s thoroughly embedded in the local community while providing its FAs “a generous payout and the opportunity to plug into our marketing, my experience, and basically get the roadblocks out of the way so they can grow.”