From the Barron’s Top 100 Conference: The Indispensable Client/Advisor Relationship

April 5, 2017 / By David Root, Founder and CEO

Recently I was fortunate to be invited to Barron’s Top 100 Advisors conference in Orlando. It is an annual gathering of the top independent advisors and thought leaders in the financial industry to discuss best practices and perspectives on managing investments and serving clients.

It was an opportunity to confirm our own thinking while sharing insight on critical topics of technology and demographic shifts in our client community. Speaker after speaker, from iconic brands like Schwab, Fidelity and Dynasty Financial Partners to some of the industry’s most notable thought leaders – confirmed that the ‘Old Wall’ approach to financial advice is being put to rest.

I returned to Pittsburgh with an even greater conviction that this is a remarkable time to be in this industryAnd the benefactors of the change taking place are our clients. Driven by technology, changing demographics and a next generation of advisors entering our industry, the value proposition has shifted from investments to advice.

In my recent article in The Wall Street JournalI discussed hiring and training to meet the changing needs of our clients. For example, it is important for us to add professionals that have worked with others in solving “real world” problems. To meet the needs of our clients and adapt to change, our priority is to hire attitude first and then train the skill to the highest level possible.

And those “problems” may vary according to the particular generation we are serving. Today Gen X and Gen Y are hiring an advisor much like their Boomer parents, but the terms of engagement are different.

In Orlando, Joe Duran, CEO of United Capital broke down all three generations and their top priorities. For Millennials (Gen Y), their priority is personalization of products and services – as they are coming of age at a time when everything appears to be made specifically for them. For generation X – the top priority is convenience and with Baby Boomers that top priority is Trust.

To meet the changing demographics and attitudes of clients, much of our industry needs to transform from being “pale, stale and predominantly male.” Most importantly, organizations won’t survive without a ‘clients first’ philosophy.

Marty Bicknell, Founder and CEO of Mariner Holdings summed up why some firms are lagging when it comes to adapting: “People get too comfortable and are not willing to innovate, not willing to challenge or change the status quo because it’s working okay.”

You may remember the famous quote by Ronald Reagan, “Status quo, you know, is Latin for the mess we’re in.”

Clients deserve the best products and services and that includes keeping up to date with technology – the new arms race in our industry. It has created a major paradigm shift in how we deliver services. Today’s consumer/client expects to have critical information show up ‘in their pocket’ via smartphones.

We’re truly excited about some of the new opportunities that technology is bringing to our firm and our clients. After months of planning, we’re in the process of rolling out state-of-the-art financial planning software, a new client reporting system and an update to our website that includes an all-new client portal. And, yes, we will soon have a D.B. Root app for clients to access their information 24/7.

But while the “Amazoning” of our industry is inevitable, an advisor’s empathy and discipline still separates good advisors from robots as well as one another.  People need help making smart financial decisions as well as discussing their goals and what sacrifices they may need to make.

The markets alone cannot be the driver of people’s financial success and failure.  It also requires a solid decision-making process.

My team has heard me continually drive home the comparison to the “Starbucks model” Not just because of my affinity for coffee. I believe that our client service model today requires the combination of consistency in terms of process, with the ability to customize for individual clients. At Starbucks, you start with the same coffee. The sub-ingredients are the same. However, the way you blend them is completely personalized exactly the way you want. That is how they right-serve their customers.

My pages of notes from the Barron’s conference dwarf the length of this letter, but I wanted to share some of the key points discussed by some of the giants in the financial services industry. If there was one theme that came through loud and clear, it’s when it comes to serving our clients we need to understand what they value most – the idea that “My advisor understands me.”

It strongly reinforces the relevance of financial planning as well as an investment process backed by solid research. As one speaker aptly put it in Orlando, “In God we trust – but we prefer to bring data.”

The headline for this week’s edition was borrowed from the legendary pro football coach George Allen. He was described as having boundless energy, unending ideas, complete focus, and passion. I expect nothing less during our team summit this week.

Thanks for reading,


To learn more about D.B. Root’s client segments and service offerings, contact David Root: d.rootjr@dbroot.com.

As a reminder, many articles, including “A Further Look,” contain opinions and observations that can shape or advance a viewpoint.  However, when it comes to portfolio management, the challenge is to filter and translate opinions and observations into actionable items and to resist straying off course with, or within, a portfolio.  To learn how DB Root’s approach to asset management attempts to meet this challenge for clients, please feel free to contact us: 412-227-2800.

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David Root

David Root is Founder and CEO of D.B. Root & Company, a Pittsburgh-based wealth management firm. If you would like to contact David please e-mail him at d.rootjr@dbroot.com or call 412-227-2800. Read bio…


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