An Advisor Firm Gains Traction – Part 1

Oct 31, 2017

There are two parts to this story. The first is the tale of a fast-growth advisor firm powered by the will of three young, second-generation advisors. I nearly called this post ‘The Fast and the Furious’, because they are a hard-driving firm; but toned it down as they always wear suits and are far more determined than furious! I’ll share their history and the key reasons they give for their fast growth. The second part is about the methodology they used to reinvent the way the firm operates. The framework is laid out by author Gino Wickman in his book Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business. Traction is a how-to book for entrepreneurial firms. What makes it attractive to Diversified, LLC and to us is that it is does not just guide with wooly vision and ideas, but instead is detailed, actionable and prescriptive. But let me tell the story of the firm first.
traction

Three Musketeers

The firm, Diversified, LLC, is located in Wilmington, DE, and was founded by Frank Levy. Frank started his career selling insurance, but was one of the pioneers of the transition to a fee-based advice model. He built a thriving business and found a lucrative niche with the local executives of Dupont. Frank then made another innovative move, and made financial planning a mainstay of his value proposition. In his late 50s, Frank decided to put his exit strategy in place. He started looking for his successors and found two fairly quickly: Kyle Hill who had been with the firm for a while, and his son David Levy – both joined the firm straight from college. The last piece fell in place when Andrew Rosen joined the firm in 2010. Frank deliberately chose young people that he felt could run the firm in the near future and chose three to maximize chance of a successful succession. One of the hardest tasks for any advisor is to find someone who is motivated and capable of taking over the business. Frank had achieved this in double-quick time. He then started the process of transferring ownership of the company to them, and after a couple of false starts, and engaging an attorney that all four partners mutually used, a fast succession plan was executed. To give you a sense of this, Frank started the process in 2011 and he fully retired in 2014. At that date, the three partners, ranging in age from 29 to 38 were in charge of a successful firm, with a desire to grow and put their stamp on the firm. In preparing for this post, I talked to the different partners and I was especially interested in how they operated and what made them different.

Who’s on first?

When I first came over to the US, I steeped myself in the minutiae of Americana that I had missed in my early life. American wit is very different from English humor and one of the best examples I came across was the Abbott and Costello routine ”Who’s on first?” John Anderson and I have spent a good amount of time with the three partners of Diversified, LLC, and one thing stands out: they are a tight team. They finish each other’s sentences, and gnaw at a problem together until they reach a joint solution. Although there are some positives to this approach, there were negatives as well. Why do three senior people need to know about the latest phone bill or a marketing email? It was a classic who’s on first issue. As the firm evolved putting the right person into a specific role and making them accountable for it was a big step forward for the firm. The partners could focus on their different areas, knowing that the other areas were also getting the same care and attention. Now the positive aspects of their tight knit team show in the Monday morning meetings when they get together to share what is happening in their different domains, and give each other guidance and support.

Coaches

One area that Diversified, LLC is different to most advisor firms is openness  to coaching. They are constantly looking outside their four walls to see what other firms are doing and seeing if it applies to them. A quote from Frank Levy, the founder, exemplifies the approach: ”Tiger Woods was the best golfer in the world and he had seven coaches.” They have used all sorts of coaching and consultants, running the gamut of marketing, social media, succession, legal, technology and study groups. In each case they take the input, see if it applies to them and then either jump into it wholeheartedly or shut it down quickly, something we call successfully failing fast!

Decisiveness

Decisiveness is one of the hallmarks of the firm. When the three partners bought their first equity in the firm in 2011, the firm had total assets of around $130M. Today – six short years later- they are managing around $400M. A quick history of those years highlights the fast management decision process.

2013 – Move to a new Broker Dealer – Security Services Network

2014 – The three new partners take over and the founder retires

2015 – A technical infrastructure year with a CRM update (to Redtail) and financial planning (to eMoney). They had been using a different financial planning system for over ten years and within three months had identified, migrated and had all three partners using eMoney.

2016 – A year with three major initiatives.

  • An office move to a larger space in a non-residential area.
  • Working with a marketing consultant for a complete rebrand and a change of name to Lifelong Wealth. This is a clever name, as it takes the youth of the partners and makes it a positive as they intend to be with their clients for their whole lives.
  • The embrace of Traction as a way of running the firm

2017 – A drive to taking discretion for their clients, and a social marketing initiative to support the new brand.

Process leads to Traction

Frank Levy was a process oriented founder and built the firm around consistent, documented ways of providing advice. SEI offers a robust workflow program and Diversified, LLC are one of a few firms who assessed the program and decided to stay with their own. Maybe their decision process could do with some tweaking. (Joking!) But it is interesting to see how the DNA of the firm: process orientation, clear roles, a tight team, and a penchant for coaching would lead them to use Traction as a framework for running the firm.

Next time, in Part 2, I will detail  how Diversified, LLC has implemented Traction and how it’s effected their business. Until then, here is a thorough outline of Traction, which will help you understand the process.

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Raef Lee

Raef Lee

Raef Lee is the technology contributor for Practically Speaking and also serves as a managing director for the SEI Advisor Network.

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