Since our last post, we received a number of questions related to getting an office space, purchasing adequate insurance coverage, hiring a team, finding the best accounting software, and so on. Over the last few weeks, we've focused on the core components, so now let's take a look at the essential items you need to set up shop.
In this edition of Going Independent, we’re diving into the world of business administration for your RIA. Basically, everything that helps you launch and run a business. It may not be exciting, but spending time up front to make intelligent decisions to help you automate as much of this as possible will save you time and money for years to come.
This is often what many advisors think of first when deciding whether to go independent. The four most commonly used words in any RIA company name tend to be: wealth, capital, advisors, and planning. And they tend to be used in connection with the advisor’s last name.
A name can mean as much or as little as you want. Altruist, for example, was deliberately chosen because it reflects who we are, what we value, and what we want to accomplish. Some of our customers, on the other hand, opted for something as simple as Jane Doe Wealth Management because they feel they are the brand.
There are consultants and marketing agencies that can help you with this process, but stick to your own devices in your early stages. Wait until you have a strong foundation and enough spare capital to carve out a good chunk for marketing. Trying to hire budget solutions in these areas never provides the ROI you need.
Website & Design
Stick with Squarespace, or any other service like them. They can get you up and running in hours for as low a cost as possible. If you have the budget, feel free to hire a professional. You can find them on websites like Upwork. You simply state what you want done and the budget you have, and contractors will bid for your work. You can hire someone to build your website, design your logo, or write content for your website.
If your budget is bigger, consider hiring a freelancer from places like Working Not Working. You’ll get high quality talent.
Starting with a few basic questions might help you determine how much time and money to spend. Questions to ask yourself:
What’s unique about my business?
Why should anyone care about it?
What’s my value proposition?
How do I want to explain / present it?
Who’s my ideal client?
What motivates my ideal client to take action?
Establish a Gmail for Business account. It’s quick, easy to set up, and costs as little as $5 per month. If you have another preferred vendor, feel free to use them. But if email providers are a new thing to you, stick with Gmail.
You’ll want an email marketing service, too. Most new RIAs use Mailchimp, mainly because it’s free for up to 2,000 subscribers. If you’ll have more email recipients, you can look into Mailchimp’s standard and premier services, or check out vendors like Intercom and Hubspot.
LegalZoom or RocketLawyer are your best ports of call. We can’t give you legal advice and tell you to structure an entity a certain way. However, we can tell you that most RIAs establish themselves as a Delaware LLC and give notice filings or registrations in the state(s) in which they operate. Using an online legal service is the least expensive way to establish your corporate entity and give you a basic amount of liability protection.
Some advisors prefer an attorney. There’s no downside here, other than it costs more money. But if it’s just you and you don’t plan to bring on any partners in the near future a single-member LLC is more than adequate for most advisors.
First, go to the IRS website and get your EIN. Once you’ve done that, go to whichever bank you already have a personal relationship with and establish a business banking account. Business banking products and offers change frequently, so it’s difficult to recommend the best business bank at any point in time.
Websites like NerdWallet and PennyHoarder frequently publish surveys and reviews of banks and banking products. While they’re more focused on personal finance, they offer useful insight into which banks are running the best promotions in any given month.
The key factor to keep top of mind is to avoid fees. Most national banks are created equal, unfortunately, so there’s little differentiation between what you get at Wells Fargo versus Chase. Find a bank account that limits fees as much as possible.
There are six policies you’ll want to consider before you launch your RIA:
Directors & Officers Liability
Errors & Omissions Liability
Employment Practices Liability
Health, Dental and Vision
There’s no one size fits all approach when it comes to insurance coverage. Factors such as size of your practice, number of accounts and clients, portfolio strategies and trading frequency, security types used, and number of employees you’ll hire all dictate the best coverage package. It could be that you only need basic E&O coverage for your first year. However, larger and more complex RIAs may need all six policies.
Finding an insurance broker you know and trust is critical for your long-term plans. In the short term you can connect with firms like Napa or Chubb to find a policy that’ll provide adequate coverage at launch.
This is a unique consideration in the post-Covid world. If we were writing this six months ago we’d recommend WeWork or some other shared office space to get you started for initial client meetings. However, it looks like remote work and remote meetings will be the new normal for the foreseeable future.
At this point, it’s a personal decision between you and your clients. If you’re serving elderly clients, it’s likely that in-person meetings won’t happen for another 18-24 months. And if you’re serving younger clients, it’s likely that they’ll fully embrace remote planning and check-in meetings. Think about your clients, their preferences and your budget. Co-working space is an easy way to get started if that’s the route you want to take.
That said, if you insist on having your own office, the timing for new office leases is somewhat in tenant's favor these days.
Hiring & Payroll
One of the easiest pieces of software to manage this process is Gusto. For $20 per month, you can rest assured that your hiring, onboarding, payroll (and all associated taxes) are covered.
If you plan to hire a team, the fastest way to get yourself into hot water with your state’s employment regulator is to make an error on some minor payroll withholding. And if you have an employee that eventually files a complaint against you for any other reason, that minor error gives many state regulators grounds to challenge everything you’re doing. Do yourself a favor, spend money on an automated payroll software, and don’t worry about these administrative issues.
This is an easy one: QuickBooks. It’s simple to set up, links with virtually every business bank, integrates with most payroll providers, and is largely hands free. Don’t spend a lot of time mulling this over, unless you have an accountant you prefer to work with and would rather defer to them.
While there’s much more to establishing your RIA, these are often the areas that either get overlooked or lead you down rabbit holes. Keep the decision making simple and set yourself up so you can spend time doing what matters most.
As always, please let us know if you have any questions. And in case you missed it, be sure to catch up on the previous articles in the series: