There’s a lot of good and bad advice about launching an RIA. Unfortunately, bad advice might slow you down or prevent you from breaking away altogether.

To help point you in the right direction, I reached out to the Fintwit community and asked those who have successfully launched their firms what they wish they knew before starting.

 

It’s not as scary as it appears.

—Derek Notman, CFP®, Intrepid Wealth Partners®

Here’s a stat to consider: did you know that about 1,500 advisors go independent every year, and 99% are happier for it? 

Ironically, many advisors hear from their current employer or broker-dealer that starting an RIA is too expensive, a compliance risk, or results in hours of administrative work. Consider the source. When someone has an incentive to make you fearful of change, they’ll rarely give objective advice.

But, when you talk to fellow advisors that have actually made the choice for true independence, they overwhelmingly are glad they did. 

To show you how seamless it can be, we’ve put together an RIA launch kit to help you take the guesswork out of the process. 

Don’t let bad advice stop you from starting your RIA. Get the facts on how to do it right and never look back. After all, it’s not as scary as it appears. 

 

Don’t determine your fee model until you have clearly defined whom you will serve and how you will provide value. The fee model should be the final decision, not the first.

—Cody Garrett, CFP®, Measure Twice Financials

One of the best parts about being an RIA is you are in control. You get to decide who your clients will be, what services you’ll provide, and how you’ll earn money. 

When you’re with a captive firm or even an independent broker-dealer, there’s usually pressure to produce enough revenue to keep the firm happy (or keep your job). Generally, this means you have to serve above-average wealth clients, and even if you choose fee-based revenue, you’re often only able to use AUM fees or flat financial planning fees. When you start your own RIA, you can serve any clients you are passionate about helping. If you want to do planning only, you can make that choice. If you wish to offer subscription-based all-in pricing, that’s okay too.

In the end, you get to do work you can be really proud of, serve people you care about, and make economic decisions that align with your values and your client's interests.

 

[Figure out the] basic accounting and tax process you need to have in place. I went maybe 6 months without sending in tax withholdings because I didn’t know.

—Tommy Sikes, CFP®, Wander Wealth

Owning your own business means owning every single aspects of your business, from administrative tasks to accounting. However, there are plenty of resources, software, and mentors to help you figure this out, so you can set up the right way from the beginning. There might even be some tax savings or retirement planning options available to you that didn’t exist before you became an entrepreneur.

To help you figure out where to start, Altruist CCO, Mazi Bahadori, goes into more detail about business tasks in this article.

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Don’t underestimate the value of good old-fashioned ‘high touch’ service (i.e., client event, phone calls, in-person mtgs.) Easy to forget in our digital world.

—Dominique Henderson, CFP®, DJH Capital Management

The number one reason why clients fire their advisor is that they don’t feel like a priority. While this may not be true, it’s all about your client's experience and perception of you. As exciting as it is to launch a new business and choose your tech stack, there’s nothing as valuable as good old-fashioned client service. 

Simply pick up the phone or write an email asking your client, “how are you doing?” This gesture can go a long way to nurturing a long-lasting relationship and assuring your clients that you genuinely care about them and their financial situation. It increases client happiness and retention and drives referrals.

 

Someone is already doing the thing you want to do. And they’ll probably talk to you if you ask. Fight the urge in your body to reinvent every wheel you come across. Then you will find one that really needs to be reinvented a little, own the crap out of it.

—Zach Ashburn, CFP®, Reach Strategic Wealth 

Whether it’s compliance, marketing, or portfolio management–you don’t have to create it from scratch. The most successful entrepreneurs know it takes a village to launch a business. This includes having the right people to turn to for advice. 

Membership communities such as Onyx Advisor Network and Advisor Growth Community are two great places to connect with your peers. You’ll meet advisors who have walked the path you’re on now. They can share their experience and pitfalls they faced, potentially saving you from making the same mistakes. These communities are also excellent for networking and connecting with experts who can help support you in various parts of your business. Or, you will find an incredible mentor you can lean on when you need extra support if you ever get overwhelmed.  

 

Get clear on why you’re breaking away, what that entails, and what your offering will be.

—Karen Coyne, CFP®, Clarity Planning

In essence, what’s your north star? 

It’s imperative to be clear on why you want to leave your existing situation and start your own business. Knowing this will keep you motivated and focused and ensure you’re going independent for the right reasons. Plus, getting this right at the beginning will make you successful in the long run. Your why will help you stay on track and build a company that reflects your intention for starting an RIA, from the clients you work with to your marketing to your fee structure. 

At Altruist, the north star has always been and always will be to make financial advice better, more affordable, and accessible to everyone. We stay laser-focused on our mission. This is the north star for us and has helped us overcome hurdles and keep pushing forward to make a great product for advisors (and their clients).

So, articulate your why, write it down, and put it somewhere you will see it daily.

 

Be protective of your time. E.g. you may have lots of time to dedicate to a few clients when you first start, but will you still have that level of time per client as your firm grows? I was amazed how much time I had when I did not have to sit in staff mtgs.

—Dan Johnson, CFP®, Forward Thinking Wealth Management

Launching your RIA means that you’re not only an advisor but now an entrepreneur. Getting distracted is easy, so you must learn to audit your time and focus on what deserves your attention.

It’s tempting to take every meeting request from every wholesaler and advisor tech company. To go to all the conferences and feel like you have to keep up with your competitors. In reality, the more you can keep your business simple, protect your time, and avoid distractions (like an overly complicated tech stack), the better.

Check out these 5 time management tips to help you establish boundaries. 

 

1) Start as soon as possible. The longer you stay in a firm, the harder it is to separate.
2) Clients hire YOU because they buy your story - being attached to a named firm is irrelevant.

—The Estimated Prophet

If you’ve earned your clients' trust, they will follow you. Oftentimes clients don’t even remember the name of the firm their advisor works for because they just know they work with you (by name). A lot of big-name firms have come and gone over the years. Don't feel like you leaving a big brand will hurt retention. You might be surprised to find clients are relieved when you tell them you’re starting your own company, especially if you have client-focused intentions doing so.

Client-first, fiduciary advice is valuable and still a long way from being the industry standard. You have a blue ocean of opportunity when you launch your own RIA. 

You’re their human advisor. Their relationship is with you, not the wirehouse/bank/insurance company/or broker-dealer.

 

1. Be clear what the rules are and follow them.
2. Hire the best tech and service providers. 3. Double-check all your work/assumptions.
4. Be 100% prepared 30 days before your launch date.
5. Take a week vacation before you launch.
6. Crush it.

—Dave Sieben, Blue Ox Wealth Management

Never underestimate preparation. When you launch your RIA, you want to make sure you’re free and clear so nothing comes back to haunt you down the road. Make sure you review all contracts, broker protocol, and separation agreements before doing anything. Once you clearly understand what you can and cannot do, you can plan accordingly. 

Start thinking through what you need to launch your RIA successfully, such as your custodian solution, performance management software, financial planning, etc. Having your tech stack in order will make the transition much smoother (here are 9 must-have tools to consider).

As Dave notes, it’s a good idea to take a vacation and clear your mind before you launch. For the first 30-60 days, you’ll be insanely busy! Taking a break beforehand will give you the rest and clarity you need, so you can jump in with complete confidence and do your best work. And don’t forget his last step: Crush it!

To learn more about what it takes from beginning to launch, take a look at how this advisor left a regional bank to start his RIA.

 

I wish I had done it sooner.

—#1 thing advisors say after starting their Registered Investment Adviser.*

I hope this insight from other advisors is the encouragement you need to make the jump toward launching your RIA. It’s never been easier to start with the resources, communities, and mentors that are available to you. 

If you have additional questions about cost, timing, or how to ensure a smooth transition, the Altruist team is happy to chat and help support you through this process. Our experts are happy to share best practices to make your move to independence as successful as possible.