Does operating as an RIA, with its legal requirement that the advisor place the client’s interest first in all investment decisions, help advisors attract clients and build their businesses?

The question draws mixed responses.

Bill Van Law, president of Raymond James’s Investment Advisors Division, thinks that the answer is a definitive yes.

“The RIA community is growing faster than the rest of the advisory industry and growth within that space is faster, too,” he said. “One reason is that clients increasingly, and especially in recent years, are attracted to the fiduciary standard.”

Others such as Michael Oechsli, principal at the Oechsli Institute in Greensboro, N.C., disagree.

“The affluent don’t care if you are an RIA,” he said.

“They do care if you have their best interest at heart and really pay attention to their family’s affairs and do you have the skill set needed to handle their investments. But elite advisors, whether RIAs or brokers at Merrill Lynch, have more in common with each other than with any other RIA or any other average wealth manager, so I don’t think being an RIA offers an advisor any marketing advantage,” Oechsli said.

“There are people who go to an RIA because it says RIA on the sign, but those tend to be people who have had a bad experience with an advisor before,” he said. “It’s a small subset of the client population.”

Perhaps so, but according to a recent survey by Ameritrade of investors who sought out a registered investment advisor, three in 10 said that their reason was getting someone who has a fiduciary requirement to put the client’s interest first.

On the downside, Rick Rummage, principal of the Rummage Group, an advisor training firm in Herndon, Va., cautioned that “too many advisors are looking at going RIA without realizing the headache they’ll be facing down the road with all the government regulation surrounding the fiduciary role.”

He suggested that advisors need only explain that when clients are paying a fee for advice, the advisor makes more the more a client’s assets grow, which puts them on the same side of the table.

“If they haven’t been explaining that to clients, they should be,” Rummage said.

For his part, Van Law said, “I know there are great advisors in all the various industry models, but to suggest that clients don’t care about the fiduciary issue is wrong.”

He added that “sure fee-based advisors are aligned with clients better, but when investors look at advisory firms and look at the news, especially since 2008, the conversation has changed. They want advisors who are fiduciaries.”

Dave Lindorff spent five years as a China correspondent for Businessweek and has written for The Nation and

This story is part of a 30-day series on smart ways to grow your practice.

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