Ron Carson

Carson Wealth Management

You wouldn't expect one of the most successful financial advisors in the country to be calling for more federal regulation of the industry.

But taking bold steps is one of the reasons why Ron Carson, chief executive of Omaha, Neb.-based Carson Wealth Management, is Financial Planning's Industry Leadership Influencer Award winner this year.

When asked to name the most critical issue facing the advisory business, Carson didn't hesitate. "That's easy," he says. "The No. 1 issue is that the industry is not prepared for succession. There is little or no succession planning. You might be surprised to hear me say this, but I think regulators need to be more active in this area.

"The industry is getting old and getting old fast," he adds. "I would like to see government regulators take action to ensure advisors have a succession plan in place, not only for the benefit of consumers, but also to protect the advisors themselves. The last thing a client wants is to find out his advisor's business is in complete turmoil."

Preparing for a new generation of clients also needs to be an industry priority, Carson insists.

"Advisors have to be bifocal and look beyond their traditional business," he explains. "Millennials and the new generation are very different. They want to interact differently and their needs are different."

Rising costs and margin pressure also pose a daunting challenge to the industry. "Advisors are being squeezed hard in their profit margins," Carson says, citing increases in labor, benefits, health care, rent, compliance and other expenses. "This trend will only continue as the costs of doing business go up faster than assets are able to grow."

Advisors are going to have to get bigger "or risk running a lifestyle practice that runs simply for cash flow," which is bad for both the advisor and clients, he argues.

Befitting his status as an industry leader, Carson is tackling these issues head-on. Addressing the need for scale, Carson founded Carson Institutional Advisory last year as a platform for bringing smaller firms into the Carson fold. While he hasn't yet released details on the assets or number of firms in the startup, he says he's confident the business will eventually become a "$50 billion true national RIA."

To help advisors communicate with the new generation, Carson in August launched Digital Fortress, a joint venture with Faulkner Media Group offering digital content for internal practice management coaching as well as client-facing marketing materials.

Within the industry, Carson is best known as the founder of the successful coaching program for financial advisors, Peak Advisor Alliance. Now 20 years old, Peak has more than 1,000 members advising on more than $1 billion in assets.

Scott Ford, president and founder of Cornerstone Wealth Management Group and a Peak member for the past 12 years, says Carson's "blueprint exercise" for clarifying a firm's mission has been a foundation for his own firm's success. Ford also cites Peak's practice management exercises, which he says get "better and better."

And Carson reinforced his reputation as an industry leader in 2012 as a founding member of aRIA, an innovative study group for advisory firms interested in growth, scale and practice management innovation.

Rather than keep its findings proprietary, Carson says, aRIA will be dedicated to thought leadership, making its research available to the industry. "We want to arm the industry with information and make advisors better by providing better service to consumers, by helping them grow and enhance their firm's value," he promises. "We are sharing our best practices with the world." - Charles Paikert

Read more:

•    Practice Management: Joni Youngwirth
•    Tech Innovator: Sheryl Rowling
•    Portfolio Innovator: Rob Arnott
•    New Generation: Richard Brown
•    Lifetime Achievement: Lew & Karen Altfest

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