RIABiz turns three after experiencing big growth and its fair share of growing pains

It was a year of saying 'yes' to esteemed RIA business visitors to Mill Valley and saying 'no' to a world of distracting 'collaborators'

Thursday 8.2.12 by Brooke Southall

Brooke’s Note: Sometimes I wonder if I’m the Elwood P. Dowd of online journalism. I point, point, point at what RIABiz seeks to cover that other newspapers and blogs do not. It’s an amalgamation of feverish capitalism, caring for humanity, evolution and entrepreneurism aimed at making financial advice into a more efficient, effective, profitable, ubiquitous, kinder and gentler profession. To people who don’t see it, it’s Harvey, the rabbit from the 1950 James Stewart film, but for you Elwoods out there, he’s — go ask Alice — 10 feet tall.

RIABiz is now three years old, has three full-time writers, has been out of its houseboat headquarters for a year and has increased the number of unique visitors to its website by 38%.

Our Mill Valley, Calif.-based online publication — which covers the growth of financial advisory business through the prism of the highly entrepreneurial actions that are part of its metamorphosis to a customer-accountable structure — went from a 12-month period of July 31, 2010 to July 31, 2011 where we drew 27,000 unique visitors in our best month to the past year when 37,000 was our high-water month. See: RIABiz has its second birthday and reaches new milestones.

More equal than others

Our bet that all advisors, platforms and regulatory structures are not created equal — not even close in the long run — has its adherents. We believe our approach is the most inclusive one. Wall Street brokers are becoming RIAs, Wall Street clients are joining RIAs, 401(k) sponsors are choosing RIAs, hedge funds are becoming RIAs and independent broker-dealers are finding some of their biggest growth through hybrid RIA business.

A few seers, only half kidding, say wirehouses themselves may become RIAs.

Lisa Shidler brought her irrepressible Midwestern easygoing energies to California in July.
Lisa Shidler brought her irrepressible Midwestern
easygoing energies to California in July.

Increasingly RIAs handle institutional monies of super-rich families, foundations, endowments and other entities not traditionally associated with the RIA model. In other words, if you are not an RIA, you may be fast on your way to becoming one.

As RIABiz settled into life as a going concern this year, we spent as much of our concentration determining what to do as what not to do. We are determined to be a growth company but just as determined not to feed on our seed crop — by, for instance, spamming you or putting takeover advertisements on our website. We are also determined not to become a Department of Labor statistic. The data from its Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 66% of new establishments were still in existence two years after their birth, and 44% were still in existence four years after.

Franklin Tsung came to Mill Valley and gave us an eye-opening view of what is happening in RIA technology ... more to come.
Franklin Tsung came to Mill Valley
and gave us an eye-opening view
of what is happening in RIA
technology … more to come.

What we do

We started our business into the teeth of the 2009 meltdown comfortable in the knowledge that we wouldn’t become deluded by tail-wind-aided success. I agree with this article that says that starting a business in a recession is a good way to go. It quotes Horace from the first century BC saying: “Adversity reveals greatness; prosperity conceals it.” See: Happy [First] Birthday RIABiz.

Adversity has convinced me that we can’t stray from what readers want most — worthwhile writing and that is the one area where we continue to invest and focus most heavily. Lisa Shidler and Kelly O’Mara are our mainstay writers but I also continue to carry a full writing load, too. Dina Hampton continues to oversee the editing of all writing on our website. The publication remains open to bringing aboard writers that find writing about this industry to be an exciting way to spend time; an acquired taste.

Dropping by

We continue to try to live our motto: News, Vision and Voice for the Advisory Community. Each of those components has three common denominators — an understanding of what the heck is going on, why, and who the people are who are making it happen.

Besides getting me out of my houseboat in Sausalito, and Frank Noto, our business chief, out of his band-practice outbuilding in San Anselmo, our move to a downtown office space in Mill Valley had a pleasing unintended consequence: more conversations with real people.

This Mill Valley hike sparked Eric Clarke's epic Mt. Whitney article.
This Mill Valley hike sparked Eric
Clarke’s epic Mt. Whitney article.

Visitors to our town included: Ed Swenson, Franklin Tsung, Eric Clarke, Tim Kochis, Tim Welsh, Derek Bruton, Mark Hurley, Candace Bates, Holly Kinzell, Smita Topolski, Steve Huxley, Mike Golaszewski, Justin Wisz, Ralph Pahlmeyer, Elizabeth Ostrander, Brian Hamburger, Sheryl Rowling, Jon Reiners, David Selig, Dina Hampton, Lisa Shidler, Jason Lahita, Dave Robinow, Sandi Bragar, Shawn Gardell, Brent Burns and David Waluk.

Not only do the conversations build trust and result in us gaining a better understanding of the business but they sometimes result in columns and articles that generate huge reader interest. Eric Clarke’s visit ended with us going on a Mount Tamalpais hike and sparked his article about climbing Mount Whitney with fellow RIA business leaders. Tim Kochis’ visit sparked his highly popular article about the mind-bending perspective he gained by becoming a customer of his own former firm. Mike Golaszewski’s visit spawned some great technology columns. See: How RIA industry execs took on the ultimate teamwork challenge: Conquering the highest summit in the lower 48.

We met others in San Francisco, of course, and there were a handful of others we know would rather not be known to be fraternizing with RIABiz because of philosophical differences with their bosses.

Mark Hurley brought his Texas-sized personality to Mill Valley this spring.
Mark Hurley brought his Texas-sized personality
to Mill Valley this spring.

What’s next

As we look ahead to 2012 and beyond, we are looking to bring aboard more talent, possibly both on the editorial and business sides. We will also experiment with other sources of revenue. For instance, we have turned away requests for sending dedicated e-mails to date. We don’t ever want our readers to feel like we are a spam factory.

But 14,000 of you have opted in and said that you are willing to receive dedicated e-mails. Before you actually receive any, we plan to send another e-mail to you asking whether you really meant to say “yes”. If anyone ever receives an e-mail they don’t want and our unsubscribe function isn’t working for them, contact me directly at brooke@RIABiz.com.

We have also considered holding events but we’re determined not to make it just another advisor event that clutters the calendar. Stay tuned.

Finally, I want to extend a giant thank you to all contributors of content. Special thanks to our most faithful contributors, Les Abromovitz, who ensures that we are never behind the compliance curve, and Tim Welsh, who provides intensive coverage of RIA conferences all around the United States (and Australia). Contributions from Abby Salemeh, Philip Palaveev, Jack Waymire, Brent Burns, Brian Hamburger, Rob Isbitts, Mark Tibergien, Susan Forman and Jeff Spears … have been at times huge hits with our readers. Other highly valued contributors include: Ron Rhoades, Jeff McClure, Pat Burns, Frederic St Laurent, Stanley Ehrlich, Robert Boslego and Maria Marsala.

Keep your eyes out for columns from the principal of one of the biggest RIAs and one of the industry’s most esteemed recruiters in coming weeks.

Brooke Southall | Lisa Shidler | Kelly O'Mara | Dina Hampton | Frank Noto