Toughest thing for RIA founders? Name their practice
Six Barclays advisors launching their own $3 billion RIA faced their greatest challenge: What to call themselves?
Selecting a custodian, finding office real estate in three cities, choosing new reporting software ― those were easy tasks compared to the struggle of picking a name.
It was a “painful experience,” says managing director Jack Petersen. The team went through more than a hundred choices, says Petersen, recalling one conference call on the subject that dragged on to 3 a.m. The founders actually delayed their July 2015 launch date by a week before settling on the winning name: Summit Trail Advisors.
Thousands of advisors have been through a similarly exasperating experience. Several planners compare it to naming their firstborn child.
“You’ve got to be willing to live with the name,” says advisor Kevin Reardon of Shakespeare Wealth Management. “I’ve seen firms with made-up names or names that squish two words together. I’m just like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’”
While Reardon’s muse was England’s Bard of Avon (the name connotes longevity and quality, he says), other advisors have sought inspiration in meditation, grandmothers, immigrant heritages, sports, mythical beasts, ancient religions, the U.S. Navy, physics and the heavens themselves.
I thought about Rising Tide Financial Planning, but that wasn’t good, given climate change.
There’s a lot at stake, including client referrals and the assets that go with them.
Advisor Paul Pagnato says that a few years back, his firm sought out expert opinions on whether it should change its name from PagnatoKarp. Search engine considerations ― that is, how the firm would show up in Google search results — played the determining factor.
“There’s so much content that had been created ― press releases, articles written, TV appearances ― so much in the marketplace already that [search engine experts] didn’t advise us to change it,” he says. “It was not the answer I wanted to hear, to be honest.”
But keeping the brand was worth it. Pagnato says about $100 million worth of new clients found the RIA via Google searches last year.
‘IT’S ALREADY TAKEN’
Given how new RIAs have mushroomed in recent years, picking a name is kind of like asking someone to go with you to a high school dance: All the best dates are quickly spoken for.
“Think of any name in wealth management ― it’s already taken. And then take any two words. That’s taken too,” says advisor Leo J. Kelly III.
Kelly and his 21-member team decided to jettison their old name, Kelly Wealth Management, when they left HighTower Advisors last month to form a new RIA. With some outside help, they landed on their new name: Verdence Capital Advisors, derived from the Latin vere, meaning “true,” and “independence.”
Many advisors, of course, go with family names.
Tommy Boyd says his five-member team, which includes his son and daughter, considered changing its name from Boyd Financial Group when they left Wells Fargo Advisors for the independent side of Raymond James in 2015. But history ― the group had used it for over 15 years ― and client reactions weighed on their thinking.
“All of us in the industry understand how these relationships are structured between independent advisory teams and a custodian,” says Boyd, who is based in Selma, Alabama. “Clients don’t always understand that structure. So having the family name can be advantageous.”
Yet Boyd and others note that surnames can be limiting.
Former wirehouse advisor Patrick Dougherty, who has an eponymously named firm, regrets not using his first choice: Copernicus Wealth Management. A fan of science, Dougherty thought the name would match the vision he had for his independent practice, launched in 2005. But the eight-member advisory board he assembled recommended against it.
“I buy them breakfast and we meet twice a year, and this first meeting, they flat-out shot down the name,” says the Dallas-based advisor.
Now, however, Dougherty says he has plans to bring on a new partner as part of a succession plan, potentially rendering his last name a bad fit.
FINDING YOUR MUSE
For advisors looking for something unique, inspiration can arrive at unexpected moments. Brooklyn-based Stephanie Genkin landed upon her firm name over cocktails. “I’m with a client,” remembers Genkin, “and she’s introducing me to people during a happy hour, and she is saying, ‘This is Stephanie, and she is my financial planner.’”
Bingo. Genkin had her name: My Financial Planner.
Former Smith Barney advisor Abe Ringer looked close to home for his practice’s new moniker: Breakwater Financial, named after the harbor-side barriers that keep waves from crashing into boats.
“We’re in Boston, and we’re close to the sea and I’ve always loved the ocean,” he says, adding, “I think I looked up a list on Wikipedia of a thousand nautical terms. When I hit upon ‘breakwater,’ I liked it.”
Advisor and U.S. Navy veteran George Reilly also considered a number of seafaring images before opting for Safe Harbor Financial Advisors.
“I thought about Rising Tide Financial Planning, but that wasn’t good, given climate change,” says the Fairfax, Virginia-based planner.
To avoid ending up with a dud, Marie Swift, chief executive of marketing firm Impact Communications, says she typically likes to start working with advisors three to six months ahead of their new firm’s launch date.
I’ve seen firms with made-up names or names that squish two words together. I’m just like, ‘I don’t know what that means.’
Swift recommends names that are easy to spell and pronounce. A foreign name in Romanian may honor your ancestors’ roots, but will clients be able to accurately remember it?
Similar concerns spurred advisor Angel Melgoza to rethink his first choice. Melgoza, who moved to South Texas from Austin about a year ago, originally wanted to call his firm Mi Vida Financiera.
“I thought for SEO reasons, there will be a lot of people looking for financial advice in Spanish, and we’re close to the border,” says Melgoza, who is based in Edinburg.
Yet after reflecting on the complexities of it and his intention not to remain a solo practitioner, Melgoza went with the English translation, MyLife Financial.
Swift’s colleague, client strategist Leslie Swid, recommends advisors do something similar: marinate over the choices before making a final decision.
“It’s good to check in with a few people, but if you didn’t go through a process and put some thought behind why you want a particular image, you risk getting a camel instead of the horse you wanted from the outset,” Swid says.
Advisors shouldn’t second-guess themselves, adds Swift.
“Turn over all the stones and talk to other people about it. But once you’ve settled on a name, be decisive,” she says.
Reardon of Shakespeare Wealth Management says he went through a number of choices, looking for something that connoted integrity without specifically using that word.
“People typically end up with a list of five or 10 names, and then you end up with two or three, and I was searching for feedback,” says the Pewaukee, Wisconsin-based planner. “I had one person scoff at the name. They didn’t get it. But I didn’t care. I was like, ‘I’m going with it.’”
Reardon says prospective clients respond well to Shakespeare, a bust of whom he has in his office. Plus, his team gets to have fun using Shakespeare quotes.
“That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet,” Juliet famously tells Romeo. But would a wealth management firm by any other name be as sweet? On this point, Reardon and many other advisors would disagree with Shakespeare: Probably not.