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How Do I Market My RIA?

This article, written by Chuck Failla, originally appeared on InvestmentNews on October 4, 2021, and can be found here.

The compliance friction points that advisers detest the most are almost always centered around marketing.

My columns will be dedicated to the RIA space, with a focus on those advisers looking to make the move to RIA. I will regularly write about topics I needed to know about as I prepared for my move to RIA. This article deals with the question: How do I market my RIA?

I talk with advisers interested in the RIA space all the time and, invariably, the two reasons cited the most for “why go RIA” are cost and compliance. Today, let’s focus on compliance. Why focus on compliance in an article about marketing? The compliance friction points that advisers detest the most are almost always centered around marketing: restrictions, slow implementations, and copious edits and disclosures that combine to render many broker-dealer marketing efforts impotent.

In fact, I was a regular contributor for the New York Daily News back in my B-D days. I had to give up that position because the B-D compliance I had to go through made it impossible for me to deliver relevant and timely content. Fast forward to today, and I am now fully in the RIA world and writing a regular column.

Is It Easier to Market as an IRA?

It’s easier in the sense that as an RIA, one has significantly greater latitude. In addition, for those who are affiliated with a small RIA (or are the RIA), getting compliance approval can be as easy as approving it yourself, or having your chief compliance officer (that person sitting next to you, perhaps) review and approve it.

Samantha Russell, chief evangelist at FMG Suite and Twenty Over Ten, says, “From a marketing perspective, going RIA opens up a whole new world of possibilities.”

“Additionally, because broker-dealers have to mitigate risk at scale, they often can be slower to adopt new marketing strategies and trends,” Russell said. “Take the recent SEC ad rule that now allows advisers to get Google Reviews and use testimonials and endorsements — all of which is crucial for growing a business and being found online in 2021. I have heard from so many advisers that their broker-dealers haven’t approved their ability to even set up a Google My Business page (which is how you collect Google Reviews for your business), let alone start actively asking for reviews and testimonials.”

Stephen Boswell, president of Oechsli, had similar thoughts. “The positive [in the RIA space] is gaining the ability to use technologies their B-D likely prohibited,” he said.

What’s the Downside?

As with anything, there are pros and cons. The pro for RIA marketing is clearly the additional freedoms and efficiencies one enjoys. The con, however, is that now you have to get it done.

“The negative [of RIA marketing] is that they’re losing access to the marketing tools and training provided by their B-D,” Boswell said. “[RIAs] no longer get the social posts, pre-built webinars or marketing advice these firms provide. They’re also starting from scratch in brand-building, which takes considerable time to establish.”

Ms. Russell had similar sentiments: “For instance, if you are accustomed to your broker-dealer providing your firm with regular content to use for client newsletters or to add to your website, what plan will you put in place to replace that? Will you hire a writer full-time? Outsource via contract workers, or utilize a digital marketing technology?”

Best of Both Worlds?

Jackie Wilke, a vice president and adviser consultant at First Trust, summed up this topic by saying, “Choosing to be in the RIA world or the B-D world is often the result of where that financial professional or team is best able to accomplish that mission for their clients. Many of the services that used to be unique in the financial professional relationship continue to become commoditized. Therefore, the best marketing strategies are derived from a client experience founded on the 3 P’s: processes, the planning and the people. At the end of the day, this is a human-to-human business.”

I agree with this. I think most advisers reading this will agree as well. Differentiation has always been important for financial advisers — today it is paramount. The question is, how can today’s adviser best deliver a unique message that will lead to action.

I would argue that premade (boilerplate?) marketing seemingly has become the standard at many large firms — I am going to add mega RIAs into this category as well. These marketing solutions look as if they were made to accommodate thousands of advisers because, well, they were. The RIA space provides an alternative that offers generally greater customization and perhaps a more personal touch. Of course, like with most worthwhile endeavors, this potentially more desirable option is achieved with some additional effort.

Good News

There are many things that I love about the RIA space.

The aspect I enjoy most is the fact that there are so many excellent companies out there today that live to support RIAs — you heard from some of them in this article. So although it is true that in the RIA world you don’t have “big brother” pushing premade content out for you, you do have an incredible cadre of vendors to choose from that will help you market your RIA, and create and deliver some incredible content that will be both unique to you and easy to deliver.

As always, best of luck in your continued examination of the RIA space. Come on in — the water’s great!

Please note that the above commentary is not an endorsement of the vendors cited.