Continuing our series, Going Independent, we want to provide those considering going out on their own with an easy-to-follow checklist of everything you need to do to form your own RIA.
Be sure to read part 1 of the series first: A series dedicated to starting your own RIA
The best way to consider the key components of forming your own RIA is to bucket them as follows: Legal, Compliance, Finance, Partners & Vendors, Administrative Functions, and Marketing. Let’s dig into each.
- Risk: Understand what’s at stake. Do you have a non-compete agreement signed with your employer? Are you being methodical about how you structure, engage and eventually disclose your new venture? Do your homework by carefully reviewing your existing agreements and consult an attorney if you’re unsure about anything.
- Entity: Establish a legal entity (most common is an LLC as it balances affordability, ease of establishment, limited ongoing obligations, and liability mitigation well). LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer are simple, cost-effective ways to do this.
- Agreements: An investment management agreement (also known as a client agreement or advisory agreement) is required. A compliance consultant or attorney can help create one. This should be inexpensive as these are highly commoditized and rarely vary between advisors.
- Intellectual Property: Protect what’s yours, and file for any trademarks that might reflect unique value propositions for your practice.
- Get help: Hire a consultant. Navigating State and Federal securities regulation on your own can make this venture too onerous to proceed. With the right help, you’ll know exactly what’s needed. Look for an upcoming series from us on how to hire the right compliance consultant.
- Get registered: Form ADV Part 1 and 2 are required. These include information about who controls the firm, the type of business you’ll manage, fees, investment strategies and brokerage arrangements. Generally, if you’re managing less than $100 million you only file with your state securities regulator; and if more than $100 million, you file with the SEC.
- Get licensed: You’ll need a Series 65 to practice as an investment advisor. This requirement can be waived in some states if you hold designations such as the CFP, CFA or others.
- Pick a CCO: Someone needs to be responsible for developing and enforcing your policies and procedures. There are pros and cons to outsourcing this versus keeping it in-house; and we’ll discuss these in our next article in this series.
- Create policies: You’ll need a compliance manual, code of ethics, and potentially more policies and procedures depending on the type of clients you’re servicing, the securities you’re trading, and your portfolio strategies. It’s imperative to rely on help when creating these, as the requirements are voluminous and nuanced.
- Learn your policies: It's not wise to simply check the boxes of your regulatory requirements. Take the time to learn your policies and how they help you fulfill your fiduciary obligations. You'll thank yourself when you're going through your first regulatory examination.
- Accounting: Keeping track of your general ledger and balance sheet should be the last thing on your mind. Establish a QuickBooks account, link to your banking account, setup your expense categories and automate the process.
- Banking: Once you obtain an EIN from your Secretary of State you can create a business banking account at your bank of choice.
- Credit: Take advantage of rewards programs and spend on credit cards that earn you 1-3% cash back. A simple Google search will always reveal the best programs at any time.
- Fees: Consider your long-term goals and the type of practice you want to run, and create your fee schedules for financial planning and advising on assets under management.
Partners & Vendors
- Altruist: Make your life easier, and just pick Altruist. If you do, you can skip ahead to number 8 on this list. If you don’t, you’ll need to find 7 different vendors and software providers to work with.
- Custodian: Find a brokerage to take custody of your client assets and provide trade execution and settlement services. Some are commission-free and some aren’t; and the technology limitations with most leave you wanting for more. The big-three in this space (soon to be the big-two) are Schwab, Fidelity and TD.
- Performance reporting: Select a vendor that integrates with your custodian to show how an account has performed over a period of time.
- Fee billing: Find a software provider that calculates fees you’ll assess on your client accounts and allows you to capture those fees without subjecting yourself to the SEC’s Custody Rule.
- Client portal: Clients need a way to access their account, transfer funds, authorize ACATs, and view their holdings.
- Trading program: Without an integrated solution, you need a way to identify client holdings, reconcile them with your portfolio strategies and rebalance them accordingly.
- Risk analysis program: Find a provider that shows you risk metrics, exposure and intelligent ways to create the same expected return while minimizing expenses.
- CRM: While also a highly commoditized service, a quality CRM is crucial to managing an efficient practice. Firms like Wealthbox build specifically for financial advisors, so you’re more likely to get the most out of your subscription fee compared to Salesforce.
- Document retention / archiving: RIAs are legally required to retain certain books and records. Your compliance consultant will identify these and (hopefully) recommend a provider like Smarsh, Global Relay or Box to retain different records.
- Financial planning tool: If you’re proficient, a simple tool like Google Sheets or Excel can serve as your primary planning workhouse. If your skills are lacking, there are several software vendors that can help.
- Office space: Find somewhere to run your practice. And whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of “I must project success and spend a lot on a fancy office.” People respond best to authenticity, and no client likes to see their fees spent on expensive artwork, furniture or high-rise views. Keep it sensible and respectable.
- Insurance: Purchase a reasonable health insurance policy for yourself (and any employees you might have), and be sure to obtain sufficient Errors and Omissions policy coverage.
- Brand & Design: While this starts with a name and a logo, you’ll want to carefully consider how you present your firm. What’s your value proposition and how is it reflected in the way you present and talk about your practice? Who's your ideal client and what motivates them? Figure out these basics before hiring anyone to work on your image. And don't skimp with your brand – this is the foundation of your business and budget solutions won't provide the level of quality and care your business deserves.
- Website: Setting up a website is a highly commoditized business these days. Squarespace, and other services like them, can get you up and running in hours. If it fits within your startup budget, it's always a good idea to hire a professional to help build out your content, including a strong copywriter to vocalize your brand story to connect better with your target audience.
- Email: Gmail for Business is easy and inexpensive. Unless you have a preferred email provider, stick with Gmail.
- Strategy: Put pen to paper and articulate your approach to servicing and acquiring new customers. Do you need a social media presence? Do you need an email communications tool? What type of channels do you use to find new clients? There’s no shortage of marketing consultants for RIAs that will promise the world in answering these questions. Some can be super helpful in guiding you along, but you’ve probably already been successful in building your business, so it’s best to start with thinking critically about what made you successful and how you can repeat that process.
We hope this serves as a useful high-level checklist of everything needed to establish your own RIA. As always, please let us know if you have any questions.