Kelli Cruz has departed InvestmentNews to join a Minneapolis-based consulting firm that specializes in human resources issues for financial advisory practices.

The former director of research and consulting for IN Adviser Solutions left the consulting arm of the New York-based investments weekly after a nearly three-year tenure to join Pepin Consulting. Before IN, Cruz worked for Charles Schwab & Co. Inc. where she was a director of business consulting services for nearly four years.

She left IN on Jan. 1 and joined Pepin Consulting the next day.

Also joining Pepin Consulting is Jennifer Specter, a 15-year practice management veteran who worked with Cruz at InvestmentNews. These moves mark the second and third consultants leaving the IN Adviser Solutions unit. Dimensional Fund Advisors LP lured away Jeff Pierce, a former Moss Adams analyst, in March to help run the company’s internal benchmarking program. See:DFA engages former Moss Adams analyst as it pilots its intel deeper into RIA space.

Suzanne Siracuse, publisher of IN who oversees the IN consulting unit, said: “I wish them much success as they focus full time on consulting to advisers. This is Kelli’s area of passion and she provides a lot of value.”

Siracuse added that the departures mark a couple of changes in how her publication will do consulting business.

“Our strategy going forward is to devote our full attention to enhancing the industry benchmarking studies, such as our 2013 Compensation and Staffing Study,which will go into market in April with our questionnaire and our Adviser Technology Study, which is to be released in March,” she says. “As a result, InvestmentNews will no longer be focused on consulting to advisors. An InvestmentNews team consisting of me, Mark Bruno, director of digital and data strategy, and an internal analyst will lead our research efforts. We will also soon be announcing a strategic partnership that is designed to continue advancing the high quality of the reports, while also bringing new insights and recommendations to advisors based on the data that come out of the survey.”

More Mill Valley momentum

Cruz will be based in Mill Valley, Calif. (as is RIABiz). Specter will be based in Reno, Nev. Pepin is owned by Scott Feraro, who founded the company in June 2011. Cruz got to know Feraro by collaborating on a succession planning study and then partnering with him in presenting the results of that study.

“It was a natural progression for me,” Cruz says.

The career opportunity came about for both Cruz and Specter because Pepin has reached a point in its growth where it needs more capacity. Feraro handles issues around succession — especially with regard to compensation and ownership structure.

“We are extremely pleased to welcome such highly respected, knowledgeable professionals as Kelli and Jennifer to our team,” said Feraro in a release. “[They] bring a tremendous wealth of experience, working with the most successful RIAs and custodians in our industry. They will significantly enhance our ability to serve this rapidly expanding segment of financial services.”

In her new position, as at IN, Cruz will provide hands-on consulting, and she plans to work with some institutional clients and to speak at conferences. Cruz will speak at an upcoming Financial Services Institute event and the FPA Business Solutions conference.

Prior to working at Schwab and IN, Cruz ran human resources for Wells Fargo Private Client Services Group and was also the founding director of human resources for Wells Capital Management.

When I grow up…

The issues that Cruz plans to tackle on behalf of RIAs often demand as much soul-seeking as hard-headed analysis.

“There’s a lot of: What am I going to be when I grow up? It’s a [process of] come-to-Jesus of what you’re going to do next,” Cruz says. “Advisors do plan to have an exit over time. They give operations first and ownership last.” See: Buckingham Asset Management creates a structure with Focus Financial that enables it to roll-up the 120 RIAs that entrust it with $13 billion of DFA TAMP assets.

After a very corporate career, it appears that for Cruz, growing up will mean walking in the entrepreneurial shoes of her clients.