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Crawling through mud, fire is just part of the job at this fintech

A Spartan Race is a miles-long obstacle course where participants transverse mud-filled trenches and dive over burning pits of fire.

For employees at the wealth management firm Carson Group, it’s just another day at the office.

The registered investment advisory firm sponsors regular outings to outdoor events and encourages employees to participate. Even though the Omaha, Neb., company is more than three decades old, it has managed to stay nimble in terms of what it offers for benefits and incentives to keep employees happy.

Carson Group’s focus on physical activities is just one way it engages with employees and earned it on SourceMedia’s list of Best Fintechs to Work For.

“Work hard, play hard,” said CEO Ron Carson, alluding to a company motto.

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Thirty-one employees participated in the Spartan Race in February — the second time the firm organized the trip to the grueling three-mile contest, held in Fort McDowell, Ariz. The firm offers three months of physical training leading up to the event and expects well over 100 employees will be up for the Spartan challenge next year.

In past years, employees ran in other organized races, including the Ironman competition. The company also stages regular mountain climbing trips for its employees, and a team recently hiked Mount Shasta in Northern California, at 14,000 feet the second-highest point in the Cascades mountain range.

A healthy love of the open air is driven by Carson, an avid outdoorsman and fitness buff. Growing up on a farm, the young entrepreneur was regularly exposed to the elements and the outdoors.

“We’re a culture that likes the outdoorsy,” Carson said. “It brings the office together.”

For those who don’t find running through mud and fire appealing, the company also organizes tamer group activities, such as monthly happy hours.

“We’re a company of more than 200, so we understand and value the diversity that comes with a growing family,” Carson added.

The firm is committed to revamping the technology it offers its clients and has a plan to grow significantly. RIAs are consolidating rapidly, and Carson says there will only be 10 or 15 firms in the industry within the next 10 years. He has plans to be an acquirer and establish a national footprint.

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“You need to have a culture of innovation,” Carson said. “Everyone’s idea is valid regardless of where you are in the organization, which gives us the ability to think about things we may not have been otherwise.”

In 2018, the leadership team unveiled an annual series that gave all Carson employees one month to submit ideas that could enhance the current business model. Out of 53 submissions, 10 ideas were selected and will be implemented this year. The employees who made the winning suggestions were given a cash prize.

Carson is also preparing to take on heavyweights, like the online retailer Amazon, in case other types of companies decide to get into the advisory business.

“We view Amazon as the competition,” Carson said. “Whenever they decide to get directly into our business, we have to be prepared. They haven’t yet, because there is so much low- hanging fruit. But, they are coming.”

All of this seems to be working. After rolling out a new portal where clients access their net worth, account balances and performance data all from one dashboard, the firm said it brought in $4.4 billion in new committed assets in 2018. Revenue is up 243% over the last five years, the company said.

Carson also plans to increase his firm's 200-strong workforce to 2,000 — an aggressive, if optimistic, goal. The plan hinges at least in part on the success of his firm’s investment in technology.

Being headquartered in Omaha will also be a key to swift growth given its competitive cost of living. Talent is drawn to the city because the area is home to several Fortune 500 companies.

Carson Group recently unveiled a plan to move into a 200,000-square-foot campus to house its workforce. Not surprisingly, the new space will offer employees a fitness center and a full-time trainer.

“Nobody won’t make it,” Carson said of next year’s Spartan Race. “Everyone helps everyone get through the obstacles.”

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