By Nirav Batavia

In late June, I had the opportunity to attend the Dimensional Fund Advisors CEO Forum in Lake Tahoe. Twenty-five amazing CEOs from some of the largest and most successful wealth management firms in the country were in attendance as were the Dimensional executive team (including the co-CEOs Gerard O’Reilly and Dave Butler and founder David Booth). Dimensional summarized the event in this article, and I thought I would share my thoughts as well with the following takeaways.


  1. A focus on internal growth and training:

The attendees noted that there has been a shift from a desire for mergers and acquisitions in previous years to a renewed focus on internal training and career development this year. The group thought focusing on knowledge management, career progression, continuing education, scalable hiring and evaluation processes will be critical for firms that hope to be sustainable for decades to come. In addition, this means sustainable and consistent growth needs to be front and center for most firms if they want to retain talented staff and advisors as their careers continue to progress.


  1. Many firms have embraced hiring a Chief Talent Officer or have plans to appoint a CTO in the near future:

Even though the title seems to be what used to be called HR Manager, one business owner commented that, “HR Manager is defensive in connotation, Chief Talent Officer is forward-thinking.” The CTO position entails traditional human resources, knowledge management and career progression as well. As one CEO mentioned, this individual would be in charge of “getting great people and keeping great people.” Simple, but poignant.


  1. Online marketing and funnel development are getting greater focus and producing results for the top firms:

The average firm in the group is getting about 10% of new clients from online avenues, which was nonexistent for most firms even a few years ago. The highest percentages in the meeting were close to 25%. Investments in branding, ad spend, client funnels and analytics are almost becoming a necessity for most firms.


4. Next frontiers in technology:

The focus from a technology standpoint for many of the largest firms is to have technology provide triggers and alerting for advice opportunities. An example would be a client has linked a bank account and when the value goes above a certain level (or below a certain level) it triggers an alert to the advisor. Though some people would call this AI, we believe that term is overhyped and overused, and it will be incremental steps such as alerting for advice opportunities that are the next frontier.


5. Culture management:

Maintaining culture as companies continue to scale (“staying small as you grow large”) was of utmost importance. One of the most insightful consensus comments was to “treat your advisors and employees like you would treat your clients.” The implication is that a number of client-facing activities such as career planning, ongoing education and course adjustments along the way should be offered to advisors and employees just as firms do for clients right now (via marketing, events, etc.).


6. Creating delightful client experiences:

Firms are focusing on creating remarkable client moments (quick onboarding, going above and beyond, relationship marketing, etc.) as a driver of future client referrals and to maintain long-term relationships. Digital strategy, investment and financial planning philosophy, ongoing communication and advisor and employee interactions can all be affected by strategic priorities in relation to client experiences.


In short, most firms are planning and spending aggressively to create a long-term sustainable future for their firms (we are doing the same at Forum Financial and for our Wealth Advisor Alliance TAMP clients). The opportunities for the next few decades are large, but what became clear during the conference was that firms that aren’t diligent about investing in long-term sustainability could see the industry pass them by.


The conference was a wonderful opportunity to gain perspective. At Forum, we are a firm built by advisors for advisors, so these insights and takeaways expand our thinking about how to position our firm for further success in the future.



Nirav Batavia serves as co-Managing Partner of Forum Financial Management. Forum Financial Management is a Registered Investment Advisor firm with $3.8 billion in assets under management.

Photos: Wealth management leaders gather in Lake Tahoe for the Dimensional Fund Advisors 2019 CEO Forum and Forum co-Managing Partner Nirav Batavia (pictured third from left) with special guests Nobel Laureate Robert Merton and Arnold Schwarzenegger. (Dimensional Fund Advisors)

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