As the executive vice president of practice management and consulting for Fidelity, David Canter meets with dozens of advisor firms each year. After the company released a recent benchmarking study defining the marks of a high-performing firm, Canter offered an example -- Truepoint, a Cincinnati RIA with $1.3 billion in assets under management, and $7.5 million in 2012 revenue.

“On paper, it’s a high-performing firm based on financial metrics -- but the texture brings to light why,” Canter says. His trip to the firm’s 28-person office, he says, “was the best field visit I’ve been on.”

Truepoint has a relatively large and young staff and has been growing since its formation in the 1990s. With a team approach focused on transparency and employee development, Truepoint continues to succeed not just on financial marks but also on the two metrics it tracks: client and employee satisfaction.

Here are six things that Canter, Truepoint managing principal Steve Condon and other observers say have been critical to the practice’s success.

1. OPEN COMMUNICATION

On his office visit, Canter says he found Truepoint’s team meeting particularly striking. With a staff of 28, the team has outgrown the biggest conference room. Instead, they set up chairs in the open space in the office.

Almost 20 people spoke during the meeting Canter attended. Condon says its typical for half of the staff to participate and there’s always an opportunity to ask questions and share “success stories” from the month.

2. SMART PRICING STRUCTURE

To attract clients in different wealth stages -- and serve them efficiently -- Truepoint offers three tiers of service:

  • Clients with as little as $500,000 in assets can get general financial guidance for a fee of 0.7% of their assets up to $5 million, and a smaller percentage for assets beyond that.
  • Clients with $2 million to $20 million get comprehensive wealth management, including specialized help with estate, tax and financial planning, for a fee of 0.8% of assets, with smaller percentages kicking in at $5 million and $10 million in assets.
  • A family office model offers additional services to clients with $25 million or more, with pricing similar to the second tier.

The business model evolved as its client base did, Condon says. Initially the firm worked mostly with the clients who now make up the middle tier, offering comprehensive wealth management.
As clients moved deeper into retirement, they had less complex planning needs and could shift into the lower tier with lower fees. The more basic offering also lets Truepoint take on “emerging accumulators” who may eventually need more comprehensive planning, Condon says.

The multi-family office evolved similarly, on the other end of the spectrum. For the wealthiest families, Truepoint helps with transferring wealth and family values across multiple generations.

3. EMPLOYEE FOCUS

Employee satisfaction is one of Truepoint's internal success metrics. To that end, there’s a large emphasis on internal employee development. “All firms say client satisfaction is the first priority,” Condon says. “We’re unique in holding employee satisfaction at the same level.”

Each year, every employee works on a professional development strategy, outlining goals for the coming year and skills and behaviors they’d like to improve upon. Bi-monthly team meetings are an opportunity to recognize the successes of various people on the team, they also include firm updates and mention new clients brought on. It’s also a chance for employees who don’t work with clients directly to hear about how their work impacts clients, Condon says.

All staff members are also given the chance to develop leadership skills and work with a different cross-section of co-workers by taking over one of the firm’s 11 committees. Senior executives are evaluated on their leadership and management skills.

“We want to be the employer of choice,” Condon says. “We want this to be a rewarding and fun environment to be in.”

4. HIRING PIPELINE

Being the “employer of choice” isn’t just about keeping current employees happy. One of the challenges Truepoint faces is finding the right employees to maintain a very high level of client satisfaction, Condon says. So Truepoint goes after potential employees the way other firms target prospective clients.

Truepoint has begun proactively networking to educate potential employee candidates about the firm even before there are positions available.

5. TEAM APPROACH

While it’s not that uncommon for a firm to manage $1.3 billion in assets, it is less common to see an RIA with such a high staff-to-client ratio, says Matt Lynch, a principal with Tiburon Strategic Advisors. The large staff size fits with the firm’s specialist, team-based model, a growing trend in the RIA space, Lynch adds.

Truepoint’s service model centers around relationship managers and specialists. An advisor will handle the client relationship, then draw on the firm’s in-house staff of specialists for expertise in tax, estate and financial planning. Team-based compensation incentives reinforce both the structure and the collaborative culture.

These specialists also manage some client relationships of their own, Condon says, but as Truepoint grows, he plans to move toward a model where specialists strictly work on their area of expertise.

6. OUTSIDE INFLUENCE

While Truepoint does take cues from other large RIAs, much of Condon’s management influence comes from outside the planning industry. In particular, he looks to the writing of Marcus Buckingham and Daniel Pink on highly engaged employees. Rather than focusing on solely on external factors like compensation, research suggests, firms should consider an employee’s feeling of autonomy, as well as opportunities for mastery and sense of purpose.

Condon says he likes to know how the world’s best professional service firms are structured and how they reward and attract employees. “We’re open to research on any front,” he says.

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