The Colony Group, one of the country’s largest RIA firms at $2.8 billion under management, tripled its assets and doubled accounts during the past seven years in no small part because the firm’s ”Path to Partnership” program recruits graduates as associate advisors and helps them progress through five clearly defined levels of increasing responsibility. Today roughly a third of Colony’s 60 employees are partners, compared with 11 percent for other firms of similar size. 2

“We get great people and we retain them because they have a clear, long-term career path,” said Michael Nathanson, Chief Executive, President and Chairman of Colony Group.

SignatureFD of Atlanta similarly created a three-step advisor progression. The firm says it has grown around 20 percent a year over the past five years to more than $2 billion in assets, a record of success that was fueled by the way it develops associates.

“It’s a big leap of faith, but the next generation is really stepping up. There are many examples of where they come in and do just as good a job as we would,” SignatureFD co-founder and CEO Jeff Peller says.

Let Go

Adding an operations manager or chief operating officer isn’t overhead: dedicated managers hold the fort so that the senior advisor can focus on strategy and attracting more assets. Consider that half of U.S. RIA firms generating $1.5 million in annual revenue have one or more dedicated managers, but among firms generating at least $3.5 million, 90 percent have professional management. 2

The challenge for principals is moving over and letting their new manager take the wheel. It is not always a comfortable transition for RIA principals, many of whom are entrepreneurs who wanted to be the boss and spent years building their own business. As a result many firms postpone hiring dedicated management until they get “bigger,” but these firms may wait too long and see growth stall as bottlenecks form around the owner.

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