What this Millennial is Thankful for: My Introduction to the RIA Industry

November 28, 2018, by Alex Webb
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If you Google the term “millennial,” the top stories don’t always show my generation in the best light.  “Millennials are responsible for America’s shrinking homeownership.”  “Millennials want more while doing less.”  “Don’t believe the hype about Millennials.”  You get the picture.  Separately, if you research the average age of an advisor in the RIA space you’ll see advisors are only getting older.  While some may see these two trends – millennials receiving a negative reputation and advisors aging out of the industry – as disparate, I see a great opportunity for these two generations to work together and ultimately, to succeed together.  In a recent article written by Janki Patel of The Ensemble Practice, she characterized RIAs as the perfect destination for millennials due to shared values in a mission-focused culture and an appreciation for providing real, valuable work experience.  I really believe I’m living proof of this characterization.  The RIA industry is all I know, and I’m thankful for that.

A year and a half ago, I had no idea what an RIA was or how it differentiated from a big-name wirehouse.  I was finishing my junior year of college and looking for an ever-elusive summer internship.  Truthfully, I was just looking for a name.  A name I could put on my resume and eventually parlay into a full-time position upon graduation.  What I found, though, was far more valuable than that.  I found a two-month immersion into an RIA, MAI Capital Management in Cleveland, where I was not only able to understand the ins and outs of investment management but also the ins and outs of how an RIA fits into the larger wealth management and financial services industry.

At the interns’ opening lunch with the Managing Partner, he stated the three main principles of the firm: “We take care of our clients.  We take care of each other.  We never sacrifice our integrity.” This really resonated with me.  While it may seem like typical sales fluff from an executive, these three principles were made evident not only by how the Managing Partner carried himself but by how the entire firm carried itself.  You could feel that the people I worked with believed in this mission and that it provided them a sense of purpose.

Fast forward to today, where I’ve been able to parlay that experience – not name – into another great opportunity within the industry.  I recently joined PFI Advisors, a consulting firm that provides operational and technology expertise to RIAs as well as wirehouse advisors looking to transition their books of business to the independent space.  PFI’s culture never needed to be stated, it was evident throughout the interview process.  We go to our wits’ ends analyzing how we can provide a more seamless transition to independence for advisors. We value hands-on growth; made more than evident by Matt and Larissa’s (Founder & Co-Founder of PFI) investment in the careers of Anna and I (both of us are millennials).  Case in point to their dedication toward that investment: they were willing to take time out of their busy schedules to tour apartments for me while I was still in Ohio, and even host me in their home once I arrived in Los Angeles.

Another incredible aspect of working in this industry is the amount of hands-on work I’ve received from Day One.  During my internship last summer, I would routinely analyze mutual fund returns and my findings would then be sent directly to clients.  Conversely, my roommates, who interned for large regional banks, were simply tasked with remedial, internally-based projects (manual data entry, cold calling prospective clients, getting lunch orders, etc.) that added little to no real value to the company or to their knowledge of the company.  At PFI, exactly one week after I started, I was flown across the country to New York City to help the PFI team transition our client’s assets into their newly formed RIA.  The ongoing opportunities for personal growth really amaze me.  I’m not just pushing paper in a back office or fielding calls, I’m doing real work that has a palpable effect on the greater good of the firm.

I think this all can paint a pretty powerful picture for RIAs struggling to find new, young talent.  Like Miss Patel said, “You can’t ignore us.” The millennial generation is the future of your firm. Just as you help your clients invest in their financial future, you need to properly invest in the human capital future of your firm.  How can you do this?  Create internships and entry level positions that do real, valuable work.  These positions provide the much needed work experience to help develop younger talent.  Having a smaller employee headcount can be a selling point to those millennials that want to provide value from Day One.

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the privilege to be exposed to the best this industry has to offer.  It’s truly inspiring and motivating.  My message to RIAs is simple: give us a chance.  As I hope you can see, my experience in your industry has been nothing short of incredible.  While millennials may not know a lot about the industry just yet, our inherent values align.  To harvest this relationship, don’t just articulate your culture; make it tangible.  Create positions that hold real value in the firm, and trust us – we love helping people, just like you do.  I commend the RIAs that are already doing this, and I urge the ones that aren’t, to do so quickly.  Invest in your next generation of talent so our combined future becomes one that you can be proud of.

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