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.