When a public relations consultant suggested that William Perry take his name off the door of Perry Capital Management, he balked -- citing as an example a 111-year-old automaker.
"It worked pretty well for Ford," he responded.
Pretty quickly, though, Perry says he came around -- especially once he realized that both clients and staff supported a change to "a name that conveyed an institutional feel for both the high-net-worth and the institutional markets."
Thus began the rebrand -- still underway -- to Park Place Capital Management, after the Milwaukee office building where the firm has been based for 20 years. The shift will cost about $75,000 to $90,000, Perry says, and should be complete after the firm's new website goes live later this year.
FOCUS OFF THE FOUNDER
As what was once a cottage industry of independent financial planning matures, more firms are making the choice to take their branding focus off the founder.
Among the top-performing firms at Fidelity -- in terms of growth, productivity and profitability -- only 25% use proper names in their firm name.
A spokeswoman for the custodian, who derived the number from the company's 2013 benchmarking survey, cautioned against drawing conclusions from the finding.
Nonetheless, she added, "it's certainly interesting" that 75% of these top firms chose more conceptual brand names.
Those firms who do make the transition should be prepared for a substantial investment of both time and money.
When Perry Capital chose to change its firm name, it had to reregister with both the SEC and state regulators. The firm's insurance policies had to be rewritten. Designers needed to create new logos, stationary, business cards and other marketing documents.
And often the process of choosing a new name pushes a practice to make other substantive changes; Park Place, for instance, is completely revamping an outdated website.
Perry estimates the entire job took the equivalent of two months of full-time work for one person -- but spread across his team.
"It really can become a distraction," he says, but "every single client loves it."
Even a more subtle change can require big investment. The founders of Itasca, Ill.-based Balasa Dinverno Foltz are spending somewhere between $75,000 to $125,000 to rebrand to the much shorter BDF, says cofounder Armond Dinverno.
"It's to send that message to the marketplace that the firm is so much more about other people," he says. "We are 40 people in our company. We want all of them to be front and center as well."
Because the firm is not legally changing its name, BDF's rebrand won't involve regulators or insurers. However, the firm is investing in a new logo, new signs on the door and a website redesign.
The change will help clients remember the firm's name -- and they won't have trouble pronouncing it anymore, Dinverno says.
Firms contemplating such a change need to understand the brand equity of keeping the founder's name, says Mark Hurley, CEO of Dallas-based Fiduciary Network, which invests in planning firms.
"What you are trying to assess is how important the name is in generating subsequent business," he says.
Local or regional firms that dominate small markets probably should keep a founder's name in place, Hurley says: "When you are a big fish in a small pond, the last thing you want to do is rebrand."
He cites as examples Morton Capital Management, founded by Lon Morton in Calabasas, Calif., and Kahler Financial Group, founded by Rick Kahler in Rapid City, SD.
A shift in branding, on the other hand, can boost recruiting. Both Perry and Dinverno say their colleagues -- especially equity partners -- prefer the new names, which broaden the firm's brand.
Even before the brand shift, Perry had recruited two senior advisors as equity partners to expand his firm. Now he's in negotiations with two more and feels better positioned to bring them on.
"As we went through this," he says, "I tried to put myself in their shoes." (That recruiting has had an added payoff, Perry says: He's just taken his first two-week vacation in four years.)
HEALING A PARTNER RIFT
Even a high-profile firm name could be unsettling to potential partners.
During the 2007 merger of San Francisco-based Kochis Fitz with Quintile Wealth Management in Los Angeles, prominent advisor Tim Kochis succeeded in persuading the Quintile founders to keep his name.
But the agreement wasn't sitting well with Quintile's founders, who had already taken their names off the door at their own firm, says Quintile cofounder Rob Français, now the CEO of the new firm Aspiriant.
"We felt that that [naming the firm after its partners] was something that you would do 100 years ago," Français says.
As the merger date drew near, Kochis says, he reconsidered. "The merits of a successful merger were greater than having a lingering resentment possibly," he says. "Nobody from the Quintile side of the merger said they would resent the name being Kochis Fitz, but I think it would have. Kochis Fitz was famous, but it wasn't that famous."
And Kochis believes the new name -- Aspiriant -- may have aided the firm's 2010 acquisition of Deloitte & Touche's investment advisor operation.
"It enabled us to embark on an inorganic growth strategy better than we might have," says Kochis, who is an owner in Aspiriant but no longer holds an operational role. "At the time of the merger, Kochis Fitz had about 400 clients. The Quintile firm had fewer than 100 clients. But the Deloitte business had another 350 clients -- and they had no resonance with the Kochis Fitz name."
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