With our fifteenth episode and over a year of consistent, monthly releases, we’d like to once again thank everyone who has listened, subscribed, and given feedback on The COO Roundtable. We’ve enjoyed having these discussions and hearing your responses to them. Our interviews to date have included nineteen operations professionals at fifteen multi-billion dollar RIAs across the country accounting for over $69 billion in client assets under management. Over the past five episodes we’ve featured a few different perspectives on the COO role from RIA leaders and service providers. With so many unique topics discussed in the past few episodes, we felt it was the perfect time to recap the top five lessons we’ve learned from our most recent guests.
Read on for our highlights from episodes eleven through fifteen!
With Episode 11, Kelli and Jim discuss the importance of the COO role at growing RIAs, and what led Jim to the decision to add professional management to his organization. Kelli had this to say about the role of the COO, “The COO, although they take care of the day-to-day running of the firm, they still need to be a strategic partner. They need to have a hand in the strategic planning and looking out beyond that day-to-day.” And Jim stressed how his COO was able to give him back his time to focus on growing the firm, saying, “[Advisors’] focus is with clients. And that’s generally where most of us are very good at and not necessarily good at all the other things like accounting and H.R. and compliance and the rest of it. And I knew for us to be able to grow, I had to get out of that because I was finding my time was not being allocated towards the front-end client.”
Episode 12 was Matt’s “Super Bowl of podcasts,” as he was truly star stuck to interview his long-time industry hero, Mark Tibergien. Mark and Karen discuss the necessity of professional management when it comes to executing the vision that the key leaders of the firm have developed. Karen’s perspective is that, “I think it’s important to have a vision. Have a business objective, which most established firms do. But the question is, do those firms go back and evaluate their vision and their business objectives and adjust accordingly? I think that’s important to do and to have the partners aligned with that approach be open to questioning the decisions that may have been made at the onset where firms start obviously with success.” While Mark discussed the COO’s importance to balancing key metrics of success, “So we’re looking really at six key elements from a broad standpoint. And that is pricing, client mix, service mix, productivity, cost control and growth as key elements of the business. And so you have to take this holistic approach much like you would with a financial planning client that says if we can define the totality of success of this business and how I as a COO and moving it forward, then we have a common ground in which to move forward. If the CEO or the principles of the firm are not willing to agree to what those standards of excellence are and what the benchmarks are, it’s going to be a fairly unfulfilling experience.” As we have stated in many podcast episodes, both in a general business sense and acquisitions specifically, it is pivotal to have a strong COO who can execute on the vision of the CEO in the most optimal way for the firm.
In Episode 13, Kristi and Larry discuss the important role of culture when it comes to ensuring smooth operations. Kristi leverages her outsider perspective to build a culture bigger than the firm itself, “Having seen what works at a slightly larger organization, how they do things and then being able to bring those ideas and apply them has really been something that’s been helpful to our organization as we’ve kind of moved from maybe a little bit more of ensemble practice to really being a business.” Larry offered another perspective, “There’s no such thing in our world as a great teammate who is kind of a jerk. We want subject matter experts who are awesome to work with because if we like working with them our clients are going to like working with them and the whole experience is so much more enjoyable for everybody.” Whether in selecting the right people or leveraging outside experiences and professionalization, it is imperative for RIAs to think consciously about building a culture that ensures a quality experience for both their clients and their employees.
With Episode 14, Matt takes a pause from the usual roundtable format to deliver a “mini-rant” on the topic of M&A. As the pace of M&A activity in the RIA space has given no sign of slowing any time soon, Matt quotes Christina Townsend in saying that for a firm to be a successful acquirer they must, “think about capacity, people, and technology before making a major move.” He stresses the importance of RIA owners considering these factors before purchasing a firm that might be too big for them to handle as, in the words of former FBI hostage negotiator and business consultant Chris Voss, “You don’t get your profits with the agreement—they come upon implementation.”
In Episode 15, Loren and Michael show how COOs lead their firms in navigating the challenges and opportunities of scaling up — drawing from their experiences of growing each of their firms to over $10B AUM, largely through mergers & acquisitions. In Michael’s words, “Our approach is, ‘Do we share the same values?’ and ‘Is this a group of people bringing to us assets that we’re going to be able to aggregate with our other clients for their benefit?’ It’s not just about getting bigger, it’s more so about getting better.” While Michael focused on alignment on the front end, Loren focused on the processes of integration and how to form a sustainable ongoing service model: “as I matured as an advisor and then moved into operations, my lens changed on why centralization and standardization is needed. I think our conversation here at Mercer is the more things that advisors are doing manually that don’t add value or that are re-creating something that already exists in a great form, the less of that they’re doing, then the more time that is freed up for them to spend doing what the real value add is, which is nurturing the client relationship, helping the client define and achieve their goals, and coaching them on the behavioral biases that would derail a plan. So, standardization, really for us, is about ensuring that the client has the best experience that Mercer can deliver, regardless of where the client is, who the advisor is, etc. So, our process that got us to where we are now has taken years and probably the better part of a decade, I think, to really fully realize.”
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