Cambridge Wealth Counsel has been proclaimed a “top” wealth manager by everyone from Medical Economics to the Utah Business Journal,but the Atlanta-based RIA's story is certainly a bottoms-up tale.

“In 1996, our family business was sold,” Rob Hockett, the firm's president said. “I had a background in private banking so I was asked to help with family members’ finances.”

Hockett said that he agreed, with three conditions. “I wanted the venture to be set up as a separate business, I wanted to be paid, and I would do it only if I could get permission from my employer,” he said.

Hockett then worked at Wachovia, which gave its consent, so he was able to keep his day job while offering financial advice to some members of his extended family.

By 1998, Hockett had earned a CFP designation; he left Wachovia the next year to run Cambridge full-time and open the firm to clients outside of his family.

“I wanted to do comprehensive financial planning,” he said, “with no conflicts of interest.”

Acquiring clients (that weren't related to him) was a slow process, Hockett said, but some key decisions helped the firm stay afloat.

“One of our clients had such a long trip to meet with us, he had to shut down his dental practice for the day,” Hockett said. “We relocated to another part of Atlanta, a much more affluent area, that was near his office. That dentist provided some referrals and we got some clients who lived or worked nearby.”

Another referral-based strategy also paid off. “We joined NAPFA,” Hockett said. “We sent information about our firm to all the consumers who queried NAPFA–hundreds of responses per year.” This effort produced more than two dozen clients, according to Hockett, which “kept us going.”

As the firm gained clients, it also gained experience with sophisticated issues. “For example,” said Hockett, “we’ve helped clients with many medical and dental practice transitions.” Indeed, Cambridge has been named among the “best advisors” for doctors (by Medical Economics) and for dentists (by Dental Products Report).

Altogether, the firm has $270 million in assets under advisement, according to Hockett.

“We are a nondiscretionary firm,” he said. “Clients approve every transaction we make for them.” By now, Cambridge has clients in 15 states, with additional offices in Denver and Salt Lake City, established in part to help maintain contact with Cambridge clients who have relocated.

“We are one of the few advisory firms that really does in-depth financial planning,” Hockett said, “not just investment consulting.” This holistic approached, he asserted, can help Cambridge reach its goal of attaining a total of $500 million in assets under advisement within three or four years.