For many independent advisors, as well as other entrepreneurs, the most challenging aspects of day-to-day work are keeping their business running and team working efficiently. Many business owners work long hours without strong returns on their investment of time and money. Some common challenges for entrepreneurs include a lack of control, people who don’t listen or follow through, lack of growth and profit, and a struggle to find long-lasting fixes to recurring problems.
At Great Valley Advisor Group’s Valley Advisor Summit (VAST) last month in Austin, Texas, a few of our sessions focused on practice management and how to make your business as efficient and successful as possible. If you feel like you’re working hard and focusing intently on your business but still not achieving the growth you’d like, then it may be time to take a step back and look at your operations more critically.
The Entrepreneurial Operating System Model is a methodology that can help you and your team simplify, clarify and achieve business goals by highlighting six key components:
- Vision: The vision for your business is what keeps you and all members of your team aligned and working synergistically toward a common goal.
- People: A business is only as strong as its people; but as a business leader, you need to define the standards for your team.
- Data: Determine your specific objectives and how to measure them in order to maintain a constant pulse on the performance of your business.
- Issues: Identify, discuss and permanently solve the issues your business faces so you’re not trying to solve the same problems over and over, enabling you to focus on new challenges.
- Process: “Systemize” your operations by identifying the core processes that run and define your business — this is your secret ingredient.
- Traction: Ensure discipline and accountability are part of your business and enforce your vision.
By focusing on these six aspects, business owners can eliminate systemic issues, tackle bigger challenges and achieve further growth. Efficient practice management is key to successfully running a business. EOS Worldwide offers many free tools to help you and your leadership team brainstorm to set goals and define these components, which will help your business excel. It’s important to meet regularly with your leadership team to assess the strides made thus far, challenges you still face and goals you want to achieve in the short term as well as long term.
A strong leadership team requires leaders who are self-aware, knowing their strengths and weaknesses. To this end, the VAST conference offered GVA advisors an opportunity to learn from the Predictive Index, a quick online assessment meant to improve self-awareness, employee development, onboarding, team performance and overall business success.
The PI assessment measures a person’s level of dominance, extraversion, patience and formality, as well as how predictable their actions within each of these traits are. The results place the entrepreneur in one of 17 categories that outline their personality traits, including what works well in a business/team setting and what doesn’t.
Those profiles are split into four categories: analytical, social, stabilizing and persistent. Each profile details needs, behaviors and signature work styles to help business owners understand how their actions affect their team and which work environments they excel in. This customized insight can be a game changer in how you run your business and communicate with your team.
As an advisor or business owner, you need to know that the time and money you invest will help achieve your goals and vision. Leveraging the EOS methodology and tools like the Predictive Index can help your business become healthier and more efficient, leading to accelerated growth and success. In turn, your time at work can be more productive, allowing for more personal time and a happier, better balanced life.
Last month, Great Valley Advisor Group held the Valley Advisor Summit (VAST) in Austin, Texas, for our network of advisors to connect and explore innovative ways to better their businesses. VAST was designed to support advisors by providing seminars and roundtable discussions, each focused on educating attendees about trends in the industry and how to improve their operations.
Staged at Hotel ZaZa in the heart of downtown, VAST also included a brewery tour so attendees could enjoy some great local beers while networking. Though the tour earned high marks, many advisors noted the education provided at the conference was their favorite part of VAST. In fact, advisors were so engaged during the presentations that many felt hesitant to leave the room because they didn’t want to miss anything important.
“An amazing job — the conference was not just fun, but incredibly useful,” said attendee Ann Alsina, CFP, CPWA, from CovingtonAlsina in Annapolis, Maryland.
“It was a wonderful and valuable time,” added attendee Robert Schmauk of Doylestown Wealth Management in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.
The educational component of VAST included four presentations, detailed below:
The EOS Model
Presenter Brian White, a certified EOS implementer, noted that advisors are often so involved in their business, it’s hard for them to look objectively at what’s working. An efficient, strong business requires a clearly defined vision. When an attendee asked White about the difference between a “business message” and core value, he answered that a business message is for marketing materials, but core values are what define your internal culture.
Passion and vision alone aren’t enough to make a good business, White added. A functional and aligned team is also necessary. To optimize your business, you should ask yourself pertinent questions such as: 1) “What is the thing your business does better every time it’s done?” 2) “What recharges you emotionally?” 3) “What recharges your piggy bank?” and 4) “Why does your business exist?”
The After-Tax Advisor and Working With the Wealthy
Sponsored by Eaton Vance and presented by Dave Gordon, CFA, CPWA, from the Eaton Vance Advisor Institute, this session outlined six stressors for the wealthy that advisors should keep in mind when building their financial plan:
- Affluent clients need their risk and return expectations to at least be met, if not exceeded.
- Leveraging and optimizing tax relief is another important consideration. Taxes can be the easiest “fee” to reduce. Questions that might be helpful conversation starters with clients include: “What do you think detracts more from investment performance: fees or taxes?” and “If you received a large tax refund, would you be more likely to spend it or invest it?”
- Concentrated exposure is also a risk for the wealthy, especially when clients feel overconfident about their ability to pick stocks. Advisors need to handle these conversations carefully, keeping aware of the emotional aspect involved.
- Another emotionally charged stressor for many affluent clients is their legacy and what will happen to their wealth after they’re gone.
- Retirement income represents an additional concern. Determining how to replace W-2 income, especially given the lower-than-inflation yield of the 10-year bond, is a challenge advisors need to address.
- Finally, many wealthy clients have non-qualified stock options through their companies, and may have questions about when would be best to exercise them.
The Predictive Index
This interactive session led by Steve Hopkins, VP of client development at FS Investments, taught advisors more about their leadership style, self-perception, strengths and weaknesses. The predictive index (PI) is a five-minute assessment taken by advisors that assigns them one of 17 different profiles, which are split into four categories: analytical, social, stabilizing and persistent.
The PI is meant to objectively identify your core operating style. Having this knowledge helps advisors reach the next level in running their business by improving aspects such as hiring, onboarding, speed of success, self-awareness, employee development and team performance. There are four traits that factor into workplace behavior: dominance, extraversion, patience and formality. When advisors understand their unique mix of these traits and the impact of them on other people, they’re better equipped to lead their businesses.
Overall, VAST was a resounding success, proving larger events are not always better, and that a smaller setting packed with good information and good people can be much more impactful. GVA is thankful we were able to gather with some of our top-notch advisors to learn, connect and grow together as a team, and we look forward to even greater success in 2022 and beyond.
**Brian White, Eaton Vance, & FS investments are not affiliated with LPL Financial.
The pandemic prompted a significant shift within the financial services space, yielding a decentralized workforce as professionals moved from the corner office to their home offices. What was believed to be a short-term solution has evolved into the new reality for many businesses. While the change may be welcome in many regards, it creates new vulnerabilities that RIAs have never encountered. Chief among them, a greater risk of cyberattacks. Globally, over 75% of institutions saw an increase in cyber attacks and crime since the pandemic began.
Cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for RIAs. Our team at GVA has been proactively designing a solution that will help advisors in the GVA network safeguard their practices and client data, and we are excited to share more on GVA SecureOffice, a new cybersecurity-focused platform powered through our partnership with Align Managed Services, a leading technology and advisory firm in the investment management industry.
Our Chief Operating Officer James Spinelli recently sat down with Align’s Chief Operating Officer, Vinod Paul, and Managing Director, Cybersecurity and General Counsel, John Araneo to discuss the latest trends in the cybersecurity space and what RIAs need to know to protect their businesses. Here’s what they had to say:
What is GVA SecureOffice and what benefits does it provide GVA advisors?
James: The GVA SecureOffice is a cybersecurity and operational platform designed for our advisors. It provides the proper cybersecurity infrastructure, rooted in the policies and procedures that our firm adheres to. It also provides managed IT services and the office applications and backend structure that they need to run their business. The platform is powered by our third party partners at Align Managed Services. Align is cutting edge in respect to cybersecurity best practices and regulatory policies, and GVA SecureOffice empowers our advisors to focus on their clients while having the peace of mind that their business is properly structured.
How does a single-point solution like GVA SecureOffice yield stronger cybersecurity measures?
James: We feel incredibly confident in the platform as we introduce it to our advisors. GVA has been using the GVA SecureOffice platform internally for over a year. We did this to best understand exactly how it works, its full potential and Align’s role. It will help yield stronger cybersecurity measures because advisors and access users will be on one secure platform with professional oversight on the cybersecurity policies and procedures we put in place for the different offices we are working with.
How will the components of GVA SecureOffice better protect GVA advisors from cyberthreats?
James: We have the best minds on this platform. There is protection from both the technology and knowledge standpoints of who our advisors will interact with at Align and GVA. Those are measures that we put in place to not only protect the advisors, but also their end clients and the personal information they hold.
Vinod: Maintaining a secure environment is a must-have from a compliance, reputational, operational, legal and due diligence standpoint. Cybersecurity is a multi-factor challenge that requires a number of layers of security. These layers are built into the technology platform we have designed for GVA SecureOffice. Aside from the technology piece, we have to ensure users know how to leverage the technology available to them.
James: Education is essential.We have quarterly compliance calls that include an educational component about cybersecurity. In our most recent session, John spoke to our advisors and employees on best practices, what to look for and more.
Vinod: The beauty of the platform is it’s evolving. We don’t just deploy dual-factor authentication and never look at it again. As the threat landscape changes, new technology becomes available that enables us to better protect our clients, and we pass on that industry-specific knowledge to the clients.
Cyber attacks have increased in recent years and have been a heightened concern as more businesses operate in a virtual environment. What do advisors need to know about the current environment for cyberthreats? How can they safeguard against cyber attacks?
John: The world has transitioned from the corner office to the home office, and the necessary protections have evolved. Technologies can accommodate protections at the end-point level. Advisors need to be mindful of this. We are no longer looking to protect just the server room. Instead we now need to safeguard the end-point, the laptop, mobile phone and other parts of a distributed network. Those who are working from home need to make prudent decisions about what has been authorized by the network. The shift to a decentralized workforce has really changed this.
What is new for advisors when it comes to cybersecurity? What changes have been made in 2021 to help better protect RIAs?
James: The applications advisors are using today have gone internet-based. They are no longer installing software on a computer and are logging into their trading platforms, performance reporting platforms, email, etc. Advisors’ work is cloud-based, and these changes open the door to vulnerabilities and have come with the need to enhance the overall platform and tools installed on computers to monitor usage and related activity on individual computers. Align has end-point services that monitor what is going on. It sends information to a centralized source that monitors if someone’s activity is unusual.
Vinod: We put a lot of emphasis on securing your identity. This is leveraged often with single sign-on, dual-factor authentication, a secure Microsoft ID and accessing SaaS-based applications, like portfolio management, banking, institutional services and more. With the decentralized workforce, we worry about the actual end-point, whether it’s in the office, a hotel room or the home, and we look at behavior and leverage artificial intelligence to identify malicious behavior.
John: Cybersecurity Risk Management contemplates balancing many fluid elements simultaneously, new attack vectors, new malware and new protective technologies. As these elements continue to evolve, one thing is constant; advisors simply cannot skimp on the underlying IT infrastructure as the foundation to a meaningful Cybersecurity program. GVA SecureOffice is providing a stronger underlying IT infrastructure advisors need to adequately protect themselves.
Are there any new elements advisors need to consider for a robust cybersecurity policy/plan?
John: In 2020, the SEC made a significant shift in the regulatory landscape by adding mobile security as a unique domain within a model cybersecurity program. As advisors continue to respond to the evolving landscape, the ability to collaborate cohesively and securely is important, and mobile security is a part of this. Mobile security has been a significant and inevitable addition, and is certainly a sign of the times.
We have also seen an increase in regulatory appetite for disaster recovery and business continuity controls. These have been heightened up the ladder on the regulatory landscape.
Why is it so important for advisors to prioritize cybersecurity in today’s environment and to do so using the right partner?
James: In general, everything that every business is doing translates back to some internet base, and they have some information stored in a network environment. Cybersecurity should be your primary concern. You don’t want to simply partner with someone because they are the least expensive or easiest to partner with. You want to partner with a firm who does this day in and day out, specializes in the space and is entirely dedicated to designing and implementing cybersecurity solutions for financial services firms. Consider this: your clients come to you for specific advice for investments. If they come to you with tax questions, you partner with a CPA who can help. The same perspective applies to cybersecurity; you want to use someone who specializes in the space.
Through GVA SecureOffice, we are partnering with Align, who we feel is best in the space, so our advisors can feel comfortable and confident in the platform.
Vinod: The two greatest assets of financial advisors are their labor and employee-base and their intellectual capital. There is a misconception among small advisors that they are “too small” for a hacker to pay attention to them. This is the wrong way to think about things.
Hackers are sophisticated and see it is easier to mine a small organization’s data. Firms like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and other large institutions have layers and layers of protections. Small financial advisors, especially those who are decentralized, may not have as many layers. GVA SecureOffice allows small individual firms to deploy enterprise-level security within their organization.
John: Advisors must address cybersecurity risk management in a meaningful way and too many vendors fail to right-size the appropriate cybersecurity controls for today’s investment managers. The SEC has declared cybersecurity as a top regulatory priority for the last nine consecutive years and ODD firms will not give any managers who lack the required controls a second bite at the allocation apple.
How are advisors missing the mark when it comes to their cybersecurity measures?
John: The biggest mistake advisors make is not taking cybersecurity seriously as a fundamental tenet of their business and failing to properly invest in underlying IT infrastructure. The industry has long tolerated inexpensive IT offerings that provide sub-par networking and IT solutions and we’ve disproved the IT vendors’ “race to the bottom” model in this industry. So the big miss is when the underlying IT structure is not taken seriously enough or isn’t invested in it properly.
Vinod: It is easy to go and try to run IT by yourself. Anyone can go into Microsoft Office 365 and start up an environment. The hard part is configuring it correctly and ensuring you can employ levels of underlying technology features.
Cybersecurity is not a project, but rather a process. You can take a methodical approach to Cybersecurity and employ a reasonable cadence in maturing your cybersecurity program over time.
For more insight on GVA SecureOffice, our partnership with Align Managed Services and the combined benefit for advisors, schedule a call with us.
Driving change or creating disruption in your firm can be challenging, but we would argue it is one of the best ways to spur significant growth. Disruption forces you out of your comfort zone and requires you to do things differently, which can open doors to new opportunities.
Change for many RIA firms often comes in the form of M&A activity — both as buyer and seller. The third quarter of 2021 hit a record number of deals and the industry is on pace for yet another record-setting year. Although pursuing M&A may seem daunting, it can help firms rapidly achieve growth that would take years to realize on their own.
Realizing the benefits of disruption are daunting, and it is something our team discusses with advisors across the GVA network and beyond every day. Here’s what we tell them:
Change goes both ways
M&A has the potential to benefit both the buyer and seller in regard to resources and talent. In many situations, the acquiring firm has more dynamic platforms and tools that can be leveraged by the acquired firm to advance their business. However, we’ve also seen situations where the acquired firm had access to a technological resource that the acquiring firm previously didn’t, and was able to start utilizing thanks to the transaction.
When advisors partner with GVA, they gain access to both a wide variety of resources and an expansive network of fellow advisors. In turn, we welcome fantastic new talent who bring different skills and expertise that can benefit both our leadership team and advisor network. When there is chemistry between the buyer and seller, M&A can be a win-win situation for all involved.
Deciding when to make a change
At GVA, there are two transaction scenarios we often encounter. The first is an advisor who wants to disrupt their entire practice to partner with a firm like GVA for added resources and scale. They are taking a chance because they think it’s the best move for their business over the long-term. The second situation is when an advisor decides they want to sell their business or hire a junior advisor in order to build a succession plan. These individuals are seeking a true succession plan, while looking to safeguard their legacy and their clients’ experience.
In both scenarios, there is always a compelling reason that triggers the decision. Owners of financial advisory firms do not lightly decide to sell their business or merge with a new partner. These are huge changes that must be approached with proper deliberation.
At GVA, we always ask advisors who are considering some form of M&A, “What’s the reason for this decision?” Advisors looking to partner with another firm often want to leverage the buyer’s resources and platform to grow their business and enjoy more support. Advisors seeking to build a succession plan, especially those who are reaching retirement age, typically want to enjoy life experiences that they can’t while managing a $150 million to $200 million book. For instance, they may want to travel more or spend increased time with their families. We ask this pointed question to ensure our motivations, outlook and philosophies align from day one so we can build a successful partnership.
Addressing the emotional aspect
For many small business owners, the decision to sell their practice is an emotional one. Accordingly, the buyer should understand and respect the emotions driving the decision. As a seller, it’s important that you feel a connection to and synergy with the buyer. The primary focus isn’t necessarily on how much money you can get for the business or any other individual benefits the sale might yield.
The decision should also be rooted in what will be best for the business’s growth and your employees.
Ask yourself what the structure will look like for your clients and the team. For your clients, will they work well with the potential acquiring firm, and will they enjoy new resources as a result of the transition? For your employees, will there be more opportunities for growth than are available to them now? It’s crucial that the acquiring firm will not only be able to handle your business, but also offer your clients and employees greater advantages.
Calculate the risk
At GVA, we sit down to calculate risk with every advisor who is considering partnering with us. We’ll talk through various scenarios to ensure their vision for their firm’s future and their growth goals align with what GVA can offer. This requires extreme transparency, and may entail telling advisors that their expectations aren’t realistic or perhaps we aren’t the best fit. But in the end, it allows the advisor to decide what is best for them.
M&A can help firms reach their goals and achieve growth that might be very difficult to attain organically. However, a successful merger or acquisition depends on aligned visions and synergy between partners.
Throughout the past two years, the pandemic has slowed down or completely halted many businesses. Yet, the RIA industry has seen a surge in interest and growth which has exceeded many RIA leaders’ expectations. With growth expected to extend well into the next year, future-looking leaders stand ready to tackle the next challenge and solve the next problem.
At GVA, CEO Ryan Todd leads the way for new and innovative ideas to keep the firm on the leading edge of the RIA industry and positioned as an attractive partner for growth-oriented advisors. His passion for the financial services industry was sparked at a very young age, watching his father grow his CPA practice, and has only grown with time. Ryan was inspired to launch GVA in response to a significant gap that he saw in the RIA industry. Instead of finding workarounds like many other people would do, Ryan started from ground up, building a business that could effectively solve problems for advisors everywhere.
His passion remains strong, and he has a steadfast approach to propelling advisors ahead in their career paths through personalized advice from his own life experiences and through a hands-on approach to integrating the tools that they will need along the way. We recently spoke with Ryan about how he brings the GVA mission to life every day, the impact he’s made on countless advisor practices and his goals for the future. Here’s more from our conversation:
What is your leadership style at GVA and why is this perspective so beneficial to GVA advisors?
We run an open-architecture style business here at GVA. COO James Spinelli and I are behind the scenes working day and night to build the GVA brand and improve the offerings for advisors, while advisors work independently to run their businesses however they think is best. This approach empowers advisors and allows individuality and creativity to flow throughout GVA.
Importantly, though, the behind the scenes work that we do at a management level is very comprehensive and critical to our larger mission. In our industry, every RIA is seeking growth by adding new advisors, and along the way are making promises of ways they can help advisors grow their practices. Unfortunately, not many RIAs actually live up to the promises they make and instead, offer the bare minimum to advisors. James and I work as a team to come up with new and innovative ideas that will make a difference in the lives and practices of our advisors. At GVA, we are committed to delivering on the promises we make, and this truly sets us apart.
How does your past life and professional experience influence your approach to leading GVA?
I started out in the industry by buying my father’s CPA business from him. While the initial focus was on the accounting and tax side of things, many of my clients in that business were looking for financial planning advice, too. Instead of sending them out the door to seek that advice elsewhere, I decided to go out and obtain the credentials needed to service them myself. This is why I became a CPA. From there, I built out the business and it started me on the path to where I am today.
GVA has been strategically designed from day one. There was a major gap in the industry that James and I were looking to fill. Advisors would go to their RIA and ask them for advice and ideas to grow the business or better service clients. They would get the ideas, but then it would be up to them to implement those ideas. We are hands-on, diving into advisors’ challenges and practice management concerns. We not only will offer thoughts and ideas, but we will actually put those words into action alongside you.
You have founded other successful businesses in the past. How does your past entrepreneurial experience relate to your current day-to-day?
I’m known among my friends as a serial entrepreneur; I have started businesses and failed and started again. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that things don’t always go as planned. I work with many advisors who are successfully running their businesses and others who have failed just like I have in the past. I like to offer complete transparency with our advisors when it comes to mistakes they might be making or areas where they could improve their business. My past mistakes were all learning opportunities that help me better direct our advisors. This personal experience really means a lot to GVA advisors and they value my honesty and frankness. The fact that James and I have both been in their shoes, gives our advisors confidence and legitimizes what we offer to advisors here at GVA.
How did your experience as an advisor inspire you to design GVA in the way that it serves advisors first?
When James and I started in this industry 13 years ago, the landscape was significantly different. The industry has evolved and advisors are looking for different things now than they did back then. GVA understands that needs, demands and objectives change rapidly and we are well-positioned to evolve with advisors.
In the beginning, I never would have thought that technology would play such a large role in this business, but here we are now and technology is the cornerstone of the entire industry. One of the best and more recent examples of this is social media. Many advisors come to us and tell us that they are very interested in social media and growing their business that way. Although this is not the way that I did things or one of my personal focuses, I still have to have an understanding of the value of social media in spreading word, building a brand and creating an identity.
Being in the industry for as long as I have has given me this ability to see things from another perspective and be nimble enough to change with the times. You can never be too humble as a leader in this industry – it is crucial to be open and accepting to change and equipped to navigate anything new that comes our way.
Where do you look for advice, inspiration and insight in your career?
There are two people in my life who offer me two different perspectives, both of which value greatly.
The first is my wife. I turn to her and tell her what I am going through or a situation I am trying to navigate and she offers me a third party viewpoint from someone who is not in the industry. She’s not afraid to call me out and let me know when I am wrong. Her unfiltered advice truly drives many of the decisions that I make.
Another source of inspiration for me is my father. When I was a kid, my eight siblings and I had no idea how much work my dad put into his business on a daily basis. He managed to come to every single baseball game, every family dinner and be there for all eight of us, while working as hard as he did. What we didn’t realize is that he went back to work at 9 p.m. every night once we all were in bed. I was 10 years old when I told my dad that I wanted to take over his business; his response was that I didn’t work hard enough to run a business. His take surprised me and he offered advice that remains with me today: “the only way to do it, is to do it.” This became my mantra. From that point on, my grades went up and stayed up. In college I never skipped class like many friends and roommates did, and I pushed myself every day to put in the work that my father did.
I strive to be as hardworking as my father is, while still dedicated time and energy to my family. Every night at 9 p.m. when my kids are in bed, I follow in my father’s footsteps back to the office to put more work in. To this day, I often quote exact phrases that he has said to me to our GVA advisors. My dad continues to be a part of it through the advice that I live by and pass along to other advisors.
When the idea of GVA came to fruition, I was scared. I remember texting James saying that I had an idea and after discussing it, James quit his job and we started working to bring that dream to life. Both of us were lucky enough to witness our dads building businesses from the ground up as kids, which gave us more confidence knowing that it could be done if we put the work in and remained dedicated.
Lastly, another source of inspiration for me is running. I run every day to clear my head. After a good long run, I feel like I just solved all of the world’s problems in 60 minutes.
What do you feel is the most important thing for advisors to learn about GVA as they are getting to know you?
From where we were in 2014 to where we are now, I truly believe that we can match up to any of the larger RIAs in the industry. Our close relationships and family atmosphere exceed what could be expected at a larger firm and we have the same offerings, plus the ability to implement them ourselves for advisors. There is no micromanaging in the GVA atmosphere and all advisors are free to run their businesses how they see fit.
We are committed to growing this company and making it thes best advisor experience possible. Anyone who joins us in this journey is treated as their own entrepreneur. We offer the help, technology and support but allow advisors to choose what they want to participate in and come to the table with any other needs they might have. Advisors at GVA are constantly building on this open-architecture platform and adding to their offerings through GVA.
At GVA, we are a community that lifts each other up. We equip our advisors with the tools and technologies that they need to succeed and watch them grow. We truly believe that this is the philosophy that allows for the most long-term success and look forward to continuing to add to our offerings for our team and pushing them even further along in their personal journey.
For more insight on the GVA culture, leadership philosophy and opportunities for advisors within our network, schedule a call with us. Connect with us on LinkedIn and Facebook for our latest insights and team updates.
The RIA industry continues to grow at a record pace, with the number of SEC-registered advisers and their assets under management growing substantially in recent years, according to the latest Evolution Revolution Report from the Investment Adviser Association and National Regulatory Services. This growth is driven by visionary and future-minded leaders who understand the industry’s direction and are willing to challenge traditional thinking within firms.
Here at GVA, one of the leaders driving our firm’s innovation is James Spinelli, our chief operating officer and managing director. James was recently invited to appear on Executive Leaders Radio to discuss his path to leadership, and how his upbringing and family dynamic laid the foundation for his current career. During the interview, James spoke about his family’s entrepreneurial roots, and what sparked his initial love for technology.
This passion for technology and innovation remains strong today and is at the heart of his work with GVA. James’ visionary mindset and appetite for innovation have shaped the GVA community, and he strives to enhance the advisor experience every day. We recently sat down with him to discuss his philosophy and leadership style at GVA. Here’s more from our conversation:
Tell us about your leadership style at GVA. How does this impact the GVA experience for advisors?
I am drawn to leaders who are truthful, honest and willing to be fully transparent. These are the qualities I look to embody. My leadership style is very open, transparent and focused on facilitating communication. This creates a better experience for our advisors and the employees across GVA because it ensures we all remain on the same page. It allows us to be interconnected and openly discuss new ideas and trends.
This approach benefits advisors at GVA because they can truly understand what we are doing as a firm, our vision and our future direction. When we can effectively communicate what we are aiming to accomplish, what is really happening at the home office and within the walls of GVA, then it makes our advisors feel more confident and able to grow their business in the same direction we are trying to grow the larger firm. It goes hand-in-hand.
You have spoken about your family’s successful printing business. How does your family’s entrepreneurial roots inspire your work today?
When I was growing up, I spent almost every single day with my grandparents. As a child, there’s really nothing better than that! Along with the amazing memories created during this time, I saw firsthand the work that went into my family’s business. My father and grandfather both worked for ANRO Printing, alongside my great-aunt and great-uncle. As a child, I used to visit my family at the printing shop, and I would see how hard work and determination equates to success, as long as you stay focused on your goals. I will always remember a quote from my Great-Aunt Rose, who started ANRO. She said that she never wanted to have children because the business was her child. That sentiment captured her level of intensity, work ethic and focus on building the business.
My grandfather was in this environment every single day, and would later be joined there by my father. The collective focus, determination and work ethic were passed down through the generations. This inspired me to do what I do today with GVA.
What elements of the “family business culture” inspire the GVA experience?
We work with all kinds of businesses and advisor practices at GVA — some of them family businesses in the traditional sense and others a group of tight-knit individuals who feel like family. The family dynamic is great in the workplace. Everyone who joins GVA is part of our family, community and network, and I am confident that our employees and advisors feel this way too. We are fostering a specific culture here, built on transparency and trust. Our team knows we are operating in their best interests, so they can act in the best interests of their clients. There is always that family element, which comes from how I was raised. This is something that I have emphasized in growing GVA and I think every individual who works in our office, or is part of our network, feels it too.
How do you apply your visionary thinking and innovative approach to your work with GVA?
I have always loved technology, and I was a bit of a geek growing up — always into computers, writing code and working on websites. I was constantly looking for the next big thing, so I had that big picture and visionary mindset. I looked for the holes and brainstormed ideas to fill them, then found the people to help execute on the ideas.
As a visionary and leader, you need to make sure you have the right people around you. I am a big ideas person, and I really thrive off idea sharing and thinking outside the box. I know my team can follow this line of thinking, see my vision and execute on it, all for the benefit of our network. If you don’t have that original idea, and you’re not disruptive in a good way, you’re not a visionary. You have to believe you are innovative and do everything under the sun to make it work.
The idea of community and family are important to who you are and your approach to work. How does this influence your day-to-day? How do GVA advisors benefit?
The GVA network is a community of advisors who are like-minded and focused on similar goals, such as advancing their businesses, improving operational efficiency and building legacy businesses. We view everyone as entrepreneurs and business owners. They are not GVA employees, but rather working toward their own goals and operating independently with the support of the larger GVA community.
The community component is an essential part of the GVA experience. It allows our advisors to collaborate with our team and one another, to ensure they are making the right decisions for their business and facilitating growth. Our advisors can network directly with other advisors who have experience in specific areas, and they can share ideas with like-minded professionals.
This community is like a family. I believe your family experience is very important and shapes who you are well into your professional years, including how you act in meetings or interact with others in your office. For me, I have been heavily focused on work since we founded GVA, but I am also heavily involved at home. I want to do the exact same thing my parents and grandparents did for us. Even though my father was very involved at work, he always made it a point to come to my games as a kid. If you have a really good experience at home, it translates to your work life too.
Culture is so important in today’s workplace. A lot of companies are talking about this, but we are really dialed into it here at GVA. The idea of fostering a positive and productive culture is central to our decision-making. If you are creating a great culture at home, it lends itself to a great culture at work.
Where do you look for advice, inspiration and insight?
From an industry standpoint, I am an avid reader, absorbing as much knowledge about technology and fintech as I can. I like to follow tech-focused news to inspire new ideas and find advice on common issues.
On a more personal level, there is one person I go to for business and career advice, and that’s my father. He and I are always speaking about challenges, new ideas and ways to evolve our businesses for the better. I also look to my grandfather. I have a photo of him in my office and look at it often, reflecting on his work ethic and dedication to family and business. He was a war veteran, a dedicated business professional, and a loving father, husband and grandfather. After a long day at work, he came home and tended to an enormous garden at his home in Devon, Pennsylvania. I saw firsthand how dedication and perseverance pay off. Looking back now, I realize how few hours there are in the day to focus on the various things that demand and warrant your attention. It’s hard to keep a balance.
When I look for inspiration, it is right here within GVA. Seeing the advisors we now work with and where we are today compared to just a few years ago, the progression has been truly amazing. People often ask how we have achieved so much growth in a relatively short period of time. Our team shares a forward-thinking and forward-looking mentality. Every employee knows how to take it to the next level and that’s an inspiration in and of itself. If you are not working with the right people who inspire you to do something better, you aren’t doing it right. This inspiration is what we strive for every single day, and it directly benefits our advisors because we have opened up so many different avenues enabling us to grow. We have had great partnerships throughout the years, and these are really a testament to what goes on at GVA.
What do you feel is the most important thing for advisors to learn about GVA as they are getting to know you?
GVA is transparent. We are going to fight for our advisors 100% of the time, each and every day. We have a great team of people here who will work with the advisors and help them grow their book, whether they want to sit in on every phone call or connect with us when the time’s right.
That is how GVA was built, and it’s the same way we will run the company in the future. There is no reason for us to change this approach because we have proven that it works. That’s the kind of company we want to stand behind.
For more insight on the GVA culture, leadership philosophy and opportunities for advisors within our network, schedule a call with us. Connect with us on LinkedIn and Facebook for our latest insights and team updates.
Mergers and acquisition activity in the RIA industry continues to grab headlines and make history. Despite early setbacks from the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 dealmaking activity bounced back, and Echelon Partners recorded a record-high 205 deals closed last year. The pace has not slowed in early 2021, with Q1 activity achieving a 65% increase over the first quarter of last year.
Our team remains active in the M&A space as well, both at the corporate level and in supporting our partners in completing their own acquisitions. Our team has completed several successful acquisitions throughout our history, and we have built a dedicated M&A team to support our advisor partners as they evaluate acquisition opportunities.
We work closely with advisors who are active acquirers, as well as connect with potential partners for GVA, and are regularly connecting with potential sellers about their objectives. We have seen several common themes emerge from our conversations with sellers regarding what they are seeking in a partner. Here’s what we have observed as the top trends on the sell-side.
A consistent experience is paramount
The acquisition process is inherently disruptive, but for many positive reasons. In some aspects, consistency facilitates a stronger partnership and more seamless transitions. One thing RIAs often look for is a partner who uses the same custodian. Transitioning custodians can be catastrophic for RIAs, a major operational burden that brings a risk of client attrition. Our firm is aligned with LPL Financial, one of the leading custodial platforms in the nation. Our relationship with LPL has been a driving factor in some of our most successful acquisitions and partnerships, making it easier for partner firms to plug into the GVA model on day one.
Enhanced resources and tools close deals
Sellers are not just selling to make a specific profit; they want a clear understanding of how they will benefit from joining your firm. They will be seeking clear details on the resources available to them and how those resources will be delivered. These two factors come together to complete the overall deal structure and help sellers differentiate between potential buyers.
At GVA, our partners come to us because of our in-house expertise, executive leadership team, extensive technology and operational support services, as well as resources for retirement plan consulting and asset management. We most commonly hear clients ask about access to myself and my partners. We make it a priority to stay actively engaged with our advisors and are consistently creating solutions that facilitate even better communication.
Culture and the impact on staff cannot be overlooked
While the firm’s owners are dictating the sale, the entire firm — from advisors to front-office staff — will be impacted by the transaction. The advisors, the relationships they’ve built with clients and the work they engage in every day are some of the main drivers behind the sale, yet they rarely see financial gain from the actual transaction. Keeping a focus on culture creates an environment where advisors can continue to thrive and allows for a more seamless transaction.
We understand that the sales process is incredibly personal for the seller and we make it a priority to be transparent and responsive throughout the process. We make ourselves available to the entire acquisition partner’s team, ensuring their advisors and support staff have their questions answered, too.
Growth needs to be a mutual priority
Advisors who are aligning with another firm are largely motivated by growth prospects. They want the ability to continue running their business the same way, while having access to added resources, tools and scope to up-level their practice. GVA has built a structured firm with open-architecture features and flexibility for our advisors. Our team is growth oriented, and our goal is to help our partners achieve their goals.
As the sales discussions progress and planning becomes more actionable than aspirational, it’s important that both buyer and seller maintain a flexible perspective. While purchase price is almost always the deciding factor, there are certainly plenty of other opportunities to showcase value. Understanding the mindset of the seller is an important starting point.
PAOLI, Pa. — May 11, 2021 — Great Valley Advisor Group (“GVA”), a technology-driven full-service registered investment adviser (“RIA”), has acquired U.S. Financial Advisors (“USFA”). The acquisition expands GVA’s presence in the Greater Boston, Massachusetts, region and adds to its overall wealth and investment management capabilities for high-net-worth (“HNW”) individuals.
Based in Braintree, Mass., USFA is a full-service RIA that provides comprehensive and customized investment, insurance and wealth management services for its clients. Under the leadership of President and Chief Executive Officer John Napolitano, CFP®, CPA, USFA has grown to over $725 million in assets under management and has a network of advisors across the county. The full USFA team is joining GVA. Napolitano will lead GVA’s dedicated HNW practice, which will maintain the USFA branding and offer family office services. The HNW practice will include five additional advisors.
“John and his team have built a strong reputation of excellence in the industry,” said Ryan C. Todd, CPA, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of GVA. “Their experience and expertise in serving the HNW base aligns with our focus on elevating our offering and positioning us for future growth. We are excited to integrate the USFA team with our GVA community.”
Napolitano added: “The team at GVA shares our approach to client service, our passion for wealth management and the dedication to growing our advisors’ careers. Our partnership with GVA and the resources its leadership team offer will support our focus on building a dedicated HNW practice and providing the integrated and comprehensive support this specific client group needs.”
“Our focus is on empowering and supporting advisors to grow their businesses, and the relationship we have built with John and his team is a perfect example of this philosophy in action,” said James J. Spinelli, Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director at GVA. “John is clear in his vision and where he intends to make the most impact in the next phase of his career. We are thrilled he is aligning with GVA to make this vision a reality.”
GVA has focused on growth in recent years, strategically adding resources that will benefit the advisors in its network. The firm introduced its dedicated asset management arm, Valor Asset Management in 2016 and has expanded its in-house technology resources and tools for advisors in the last five years. GVA has completed several successful acquisitions in its history and has built a network of nearly 100 advisors across the country. The firm was supported by LPL Financial’s M&A Solutions new premium buyer program in completing the USFA transaction.
“The GVA team has been strategic in its development, building the right capabilities and structure to support a deal of this magnitude,” said Jeremy Holly, LPL Senior Vice President and head of Advisor Financial Solutions. “Our M&A Solutions team supported GVA and USFA throughout a formal sales process, positioning GVA as a qualified and value-added buyer and ensuring the firms were a good fit. We believe this acquisition will be a true benefit to their current and future clients.”
The acquisition closed on May 10, 2021, and will increase GVA’s assets under management by over $725 million. GVA was advised by Stradley Ronon. Financial and legal terms of the deal were not disclosed.
About Great Valley Advisor Group
Great Valley Advisor Group (“GVA”) is a technology-driven full-service registered investment adviser. GVA partners with select independent financial advisors by providing customized technology, investment strategies, compliance, and proprietary compensation tools to help them grow their businesses. Our advisors have the choice and flexibility to run their businesses the way they want. GVA provides advisors with support to get started and technology to help the firm thrive.
For more information, visit greatvalleyadvisors.com.
Technology continues to dominate the conversation around advisor growth strategies, and the ability to leverage it as a growth tool remains an important focus for the future. Technology is my passion, and I have always been keenly focused on its role in helping businesses grow and adapt, as well as its ability to revolutionize how we approach our daily lives.
This has become even more apparent within the last year, as more advisors shifted to remote work and more firms were forced to invest in tech to keep business activities consistent. In fact, the TD Ameritrade RIA Sentiment Survey found that RIAs were investing more in technology than planned because of the pandemic, with 33% of firms upgrading tech capabilities because of the shifting workplace needs.
The last year has opened advisors’ eyes to the role technology plays in their practice and its ability to amplify impact or harness growth. Here at GVA, we have always placed a high priority on technology, leveraging it to improve how we work as a team and with the advisors aligned with us. This focus has been instrumental in our growth and ability to partner with advisors from across the country.
Technology is non-negotiable for sustained growth
While advisors know they must embrace technology in today’s world, it can be difficult to know where to start. I recommend assessing your current tech stack and examining what is working, what is being actively utilized by the team and how your practice is benefiting.
Once you have an idea of your baseline, you can begin shopping for other technology assets. There are two silos of technology: 1) tech you need and 2) tech that can help grow your business. The first category includes the basics, like your custodial platform, CRM system and other specific tools — the technology that helps you run your business efficiently. The second category involves the technology you need to grow and that empowers you to focus on specialties — the tech that gives you the “disruption factor” that will create real change.
Technology should allow you to streamline tasks, establish workflows and work smarter. When used correctly, technology can propel your practice to new heights. If your current technology package is not meeting these goals, it may be time to reevaluate how you are implementing tech into your work.
Leveraging technology for our advisors via open architecture
GVA is 100% technology-driven. We have put a very robust technology structure in place with elements that support growth. We have partnered with Align Cybersecurity to design cybersecurity policies and procedures. We offer Valor Asset Management, a comprehensive and technology-supported asset management platform; as well as AdvisorBOB, our dynamic advisor compensation software. We have worked to customize Salesforce for our team’s benefit, with specialized workflows, processes, automation and more to streamline activities and allow more time for business-building efforts. We are currently building our GVA Gateway, which will function as an intranet for our advisors to connect, share ideas and collaborate, as well as a centralized portal with the resources and tools they need to succeed.
We feel confident that we have the right tools and resources in place, and we have designed an open-architecture structure with our technology, allowing firms who align with us to opt to continue using their preferred technology platforms after joining us. They will gain access to our suite of solutions but it is up to them whether or not they use it. We view this is an excellent opportunity for our advisors to leverage what we have built to whatever extent they desire.
How technology has revolutionized GVA’s approach
Our focus on technology has been intentional and supports our larger approach to working with advisors. Our goal is to help advisors up-level their practices, as well as provide them with the tools and resources they need to grow their firms and meet their long-term objectives.
The technology we have in place is attractive to our advisor partners, but also allows us to collaborate with them in a better and more meaningful way, effectively elevating the conversation from surface-level to an in-depth and actionable discussion. We can quickly view and publish reports and benchmarks against similar advisors, and we have more visibility into our partners’ businesses so we can understand their challenges and trends. This allows us to explore challenges and create solutions in real time, connect them with other advisors who have faced similar challenges and collaborate in a way that makes everyone better. My colleagues and I can give real advice, outlining specific tools that will work for you and more. We are solely focused on helping you grow your business.
As technology becomes more central to our lives, it’s impossible to ignore the implications it can have on your practice. Technology is nothing if you don’t have anyone using it — and doing so to its full potential. We view it as one of the best tools available to meeting your short- and long-term goals and facilitating meaningful connections. For more insight on the technology we employ to improve workflows and empower advisor growth, and how we can help you leverage technology to grow your practice, schedule a call with us. Connect with us on LinkedIn and Facebook for our latest insights and team updates.