Annual lists serve a lot of functions. They offer a clear snapshot of an industry in transition. They also provide a valuable yardstick and often can verify long-term trends. Take the latest installment of Financial Planning's RIA Leaders issue, which features our ranking of the nation's top RIA firms.

The firms that are moving up the list - as well as the firms that have moved off the list - are at the foundation of our cover story. To best highlight the shifting dynamics, we focused on fee-only firms and excluded those with broker-dealer affiliations or with large stakes held by banks or other outside institutions.

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