With another batch of podcasts in the books and almost three years of consistent, monthly episodes, 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 fifty-five operations professionals at fifty-two multi-billion-dollar RIAs across the country accounting for over $306 billion in client assets under management. Over the past five episodes we’ve featured a few different perspectives on the role of the COO from leaders of RIAs of all sizes and shared a special look at our latest online learning platform, The COO Society. 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. You can also check out the top lessons from previous episodes here. Read on for our highlights from episodes thirty-one to thirty-five!
Ep 31 featuring Eric Stephenson & Natalie Wheeler: The Creation and Efficiency of Standardization with the End Client in Mind
In Ep 31, Matt and Eric discussed the steps it took for Align Impact to become the efficient firm it is today. Eric shared that their back-office procedures and tech stack were all built with their ideal client in mind, “I am an avid listener of The COO Roundtable podcast, and you have a topic about the ‘evolving ideal client.’ I think that that is how we built our infrastructure, we might have had one client who needed a specific service and for the most part, we built from there. In the beginning, you can probably run things through Excel or from your memory because you just don’t have a ton of clients. As you get more clients asking for similar things, you need to build things to provide that service at scale.”
Natalie shared how she created an efficient and standardized approach to BMM’s services when she first started by stating, “I definitely have been working from the ground up. The first thing I did was learn our clients. What is working, what may need improvement. I started with our segmentation. That was already started when I began, but I definitely wanted to dive in and figure out our demographics. What we’re doing currently, what we could be doing better. I started on our CRM, which, of course, went along with our workflows… As I’ve learned over the years, no day is ever the same in the operations role. I continue to pick apart different things. What can I work on today? How can I improve? How can I streamline? How can I make the best experience for our clients? And of course, our employees as well!”
We paused from our regularly scheduled programing to answer some questions we have been receiving about our new digital consulting platform, The COO Society. While there are many platforms to train advisors, we saw a void where operations professionals could go to answer the ever-elusive question, “How do I run my RIA more efficiently and profitably?” Matt provides an overview of the platform. The COO Society is divided into three high-level learning paths, which we think represent the three core functions of an RIA Operations Professional: Technology, Human Resources, and Business Administration. The platform’s courses provide relevant information for RIAs of all sizes and helps them hone the skills needed to effectively run their business and drive growth in a profitable fashion. Each course includes several recorded virtual consultations with Matt, as well as outside interviews with industry consultants and centers of influence who provide real-world application of the course content. As Matt says in Ep 32, “We don’t want to just conceptualize these topics, we want to speak with practitioners who specialize in these areas, who can tell us where we are wrong in our thinking with regard to a particular topic and can hopefully come at the course material from a different angle. We just want our members to receive the best information, and we clearly don’t believe we have a monopoly on good ideas, so it’s always been important to us that we include an outside perspective in every course.”
Ep 33 featuring Jandy Rowe & Brad Hixson: M&A — It’s an Operations Story
In this episode Matt was joined by two guests who discussed what their firms are doing operationally to prepare for inorganic growth and to make themselves attractive to sellers looking for a firm to partner with. Brad offered his opinion, “I think you just always have to be looking at ‘How can I make the back office better? How can I make the process smoother and how can I leverage technology to do so?’ Because if you have those things in place, you have the whole story to tell. Not just the offering for the clients, but that you’re really going to be there to support and help grow the advisors and provide them the resources they need — not just on the financial side, but on the technical side as well.”
Jandy shared how Wipfli prepared to enter the M&A space, “One of the things we did as we were building up to this was we brought on Katie Cullen. She’s our new Chief Innovation and Strategy Officer. She’s amazing. One of our primary focuses is M&A, and we think it’s important to have a dedicated leadership team that doesn’t serve as advisors (splitting time between speaking with advisors look to join Wipfli and trying to service clients). Really, we’ve been able to spend the time dedicated to mapping out the plan and lining the pieces up so that everything’s going to work. Making sure that you have that well-oiled backstage team up and running and having the efficiencies in place, and I feel like we’ve been doing that. We’ve had that in place for a while. Now being able to put other things into motion by bringing Katie on and creating an internal team, it’s really their job to onboard firms as we meet them and get them brought into our teams, and be able to help with their client load, and be able to take that backstage work, and the compliance work off those advisors and be able to take that for them.”
Ep 34 featuring Jennifer Papadopolo & Matt Wiles: COOs Balance Both People and Technology
For this episode, we spoke with Jenn and Matt on how their roles have them balancing the human elements as well as the technological elements of their respective firms. When asked how he handles both of those aspects, Matt Wiles said, “We have a team of five folks that are responsible for the management and implementation of our tech stack. I think we found it challenging to find the right tool. What we really engaged them to do is make the final decision to either insource or outsource or whatever it might be, I’ve found that it’s more likely to be adopted if you engage the end user in determining what tools or what solutions we prioritize and then have them involve the end user in the development and the onboarding of those tools.”
Jenn shared her thoughts by stating, “What I’ve learned is that I’ve had tons of folks come to me and say, ‘Hey, Jenn, my buddy, over at XYZ RIA uses this software. Can we get it?’ Then we implement it, and nobody uses it because the right questions weren’t asked. It’s like, ‘What are they using it for? Is this going to solve a problem that we have here?’ It’s really not starting with any assumptions of any software that you’re going to use, but asking, ‘What problem are you trying to solve? What is the actual need that we have here?’ Once you get folks to stop talking about, ‘Hey, let’s use this, hey, let’s use that’ and just focus on your firm’s needs, sometimes you find out that the software that everybody wants to use isn’t really going to solve our problem. I think that’s really been the biggest challenge is to get people to stop telling me what software we need and to tell me what problem they are having. I think if you just flip the questions around, I found it’s been much more successful.”
Ep 35 featuring Amanda Green & Gary Davis Jr: How A New Operations Professional Can Tackle Their First 90 Days at an RIA
Episode 35 was a great discussion with Amanda and Gary, two operations professionals who are relatively new to their firms. Matt asked both guests what advice they could offer to others in a similar position. Gary said “I sat in one-on-one meetings with all the staff. I focused some of those meetings on just the business and understanding their roles and responsibilities, how long they’ve been in the firm, what they’re seeing that works and doesn’t work, what improvements would they make if they were in my position. I’ve also made these one-on-ones more personal in nature, just getting to know the staff more on a personal level, and of course, me asking them questions as well as me giving them information about my professional and personal life. I also have implemented some team-building events and we’re going to build those out. Obviously, it is very important for me to first begin to understand the firm’s culture – its culture, its business practices, the firm’s way of being, and how to empower the staff and Jonathan (the firm’s CEO). I have been focusing my time on integrating myself into the organization first, before recommending any material or major changes.”
Amanda added, “I think you need to build a really great rapport and demonstrate that you understand the culture, understand the dynamics of the firm. For me, it was all about taking an objective standpoint on everything, and really understanding what’s going on, understanding people’s motivations, where they’re coming from, and really taking in all that feedback and gaining their trust. For me, the first few months has been a lot of the easy wins; if I can advocate for our employees, if I could go out and make little changes to make their life easier.”
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