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This month marks my 25th anniversary in the wealth management industry. I started down this career path with Merrill Lynch in July of 1997 as a Wire Operator (you’ll have to look that job up – it no longer exists!). In 2008, I helped launch Luminous Capital, and when Luminous was sold to First Republic in early 2013, I joined Focus Financial Partners. Then, in 2015, I started PFI Advisors with my wife and business partner, Reese Sonnen.

Although I have every intention of sticking around for another 25 years in this amazing industry, I thought now would be a good time to take stock and list some of the lessons I’ve learned during this wild ride.  As such, I present to you 25 lessons learned from 25 years in wealth management, in no particular order:

  1. When someone declares, ‘It’ll be different this time!’ they are almost always naïve and usually very wrong
  2. ‘We do what they do, only better’ is an awful marketing strategy
  3. ‘Integratable’ does not mean ‘Integrated
  4. Fears over Y2K in 1999 were dramatically overhyped; fears over the mortgage crisis in 2007 were dramatically ignored
  5. The ‘Move to Independence’ is very real.  However, far fewer advisors are looking to start their own RIAs than the press would have you believe
  6. Firms that prioritize their employees over their clients tend to be more successful than firms that prioritize clients over employees
  7. There is, in fact, a market for a nerdy operations podcast (and a lot of people willing to be guests with great advice/insight)
  8. A bank that says, ‘We’re an RIA’ is still a bank at heart
  9. If the training tools you are looking for don’t exist, build them yourself
  10. RIA owners are often fantastic financial advisors, but they often struggle with the nuances of being business owners
  11. New York City is the greatest city in the world…unless you have two children under two years old
  12. Firms who have a documented ideal client persona grow faster than firms who do not
  13. There’s no such thing as ‘Free Custody’ (you want your custodian to make money!)
  14. Breakaway advisors are skeptical because they have been lied to their entire careers
  15. Mark Tibergien is the greatest thing to happen to the RIA industry (followed closely by Michael Kitces)
  16. Having someone trust you with the stewardship of their wealth is not a responsibility to be taken lightly
  17. There is nothing wrong with intrapreneurship, but it’s very different than entrepreneurship.  Don’t let someone tell you, ‘Joining our firm is the same as owning your own business’
  18. The Big Short and When Genius Failed are two of the best books written in the past quarter century
  19. When someone declares, ‘We’re the Uber/Airbnb of _______’ you should run the other way
  20. Content marketing does lead to clients, but it takes years of consistent effort before you see the fruits of your labor
  21. Vendors and consultants can’t do the push-ups for you
  22. Our industry must do better at creating career paths for non-advisors
  23. Organic growth is always more valuable than inorganic growth
  24. Entrepreneurship is just like parenthood: The days are long, but the years are short
  25. Don’t let anyone tell you, ‘You aren’t responsible for business development, therefore you aren’t as vital to our firm’s success

Bonus lesson: The human race isn’t ready for Calendly