Taylor Ranker, of the Ranker-Hanshaw Financial Group in Harrisburg, Pa., had been running his business the same way—asking clients for referrals at every opportunity, holding as many seminars as possible and advertising in the local paper—for the past 15 years.

The advisor and his two partners were doing well: They’d amassed $150 million in assets, most of it in fee accounts, but they felt they had plateaued. That’s why three months ago they contacted CEG Worldwide.

CEG is a consultant that works with advisors generating at least $500,000 in fees. Its model is relatively straightforward, essentially boiling down to working for the wealthiest clients you can find so long as they fit your ideal client profile.

For Ranker, that meant imposing a $1 million account minimum on new accounts, up from $400,000, raising fee minimums to $10,000 per year and fees in general from “what I felt I could get away with” to 1.25% up to $500,000 and 1% after that. To sweeten the deal, Ranker and his partners include base legal, accounting and estate services through affiliated lawyers and accountants. “Clients will get about $1,000 worth of free service that we’ll pay for, but they’ll have to pay for services above that,” he says.

Ranker now splits his business into Old Co. and New Co. Old Co. consisted of 220 families, of which he has invited only 30 to sign up with New Co., “because the others didn’t need of deserve it,” he says. Ranker’s parents, for example, have a relatively straightforward qualified account and don’t need the extra whistles and bells, so why charge them extra? They’ll remain in Old Co., which Ranker might sell to another firm in the next few years as New Co. takes off.

To get started, Ranker is focusing on a wealthy client niche: surgeons. While he isn’t limiting his client base to that one group, surgeon clients can expect a 10-person committee of experts to review their accounts every quarter. Beyond the financial advisors, attorneys and accountants, surgeons can also expect a specialist in malpractice insurance to review their case and report back whether their coverage is sufficient.

A twist on the norm, Ranker isn’t cajoling centers of influence into throwing him a few bones; he’s proposing a business contract and then interviewing them to make sure he wants to work with them. And it’s working: accountants and attorneys are applying for the job.

“We advisors tend to be afraid of CPAs and think of them as gods, but instead of getting the occasional referral I wanted to add tax planning to our services,” he said. “Instead of being intimidated, I called and asked for proposals. Now I’m in charge of the relationship. One expert on our team referred me a $10 million client and we haven’t even had our first team meeting yet!

Outsiders who partner with Ranker’s firm earn 25% of the revenue generated by shared client relationships. It’s a quid pro quo system, though: Ranker now runs the 401(k) plans of a law firm he signed up for his team of experts.

Ranker credits the ravages of the recession for getting tough with how he wanted his business to look. Besides taking the lead with centers-of-influence relationships, he’s also been firing clients who don’t fit his vision. “I just fired seven who wouldn’t follow our advice,” he said. “As a fiduciary, that’s a bad deal for me. Instead, I’m working for clients whose accounts look pretty healthy right now because I didn’t let them sell out at the bottom or taken on more risk than they needed.”

The net effect of New Co. is that Ranker works 10 hours less per week than he used to, and not because he’s kicking back. “I do what ever I can think of to stay productive,” he said. “There’s just physically less phone calling and prospecting to do.”

Ultimately, it’s a story about confidence: Take the lead with centers of influence and make them work for you; fire clients who don’t follow your advice; and leverage those expert relationships and fewer clients sapping your time to provide the kind of service that justifies you charging higher fees and setting higher account size minimums. Ranker did it; so can you.

“I was scared at first, but we’re at the top of our game and we didn’t know it,” Ranker says of the newfound confidence he now feels when soliciting centers of influence to earn the right to work with him. “I wanted to grow without getting busier, and we’re doing that by growing our business carefully.”


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