The founder of RIA in a Box, which helps registered investment adviser firms with registration and ongoing compliance, would love to change the name of his company.
"It sounds like a fast-food restaurant," Zachary Gronich, who is also its chief executive, said.
The problem is that the consulting company has quickly grown bigger than Gronich ever expected: At this point, the brand is just too valuable to mess with.
Back in 2005, when Gronich founded RIA in a Box in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, his plan was to work two hours a month and gross $60,000 a year. He badly underestimated demand.These days, the company grosses three times that amount —each month —and profit margins are extremely high.
Gronich has eight employees and has traded his western Texas digs for a sleek office overlooking Bryant Park in Manhattan.
"I've had to go from laid-back mom-and-pop to legitimate medium-size business," he said.
"We've got to stress over competitors, how we're going to position ourselves, and we've had to hire a director of sales and a PR director."
Why are so many RIAs seeking out a company that helps with registration? The simple answer is the numbing amount of, and complexity of, paperwork they must provide to federal or state regulators.
"If I tried to do it myself, it would have been a nightmare," said Stephen Reh, referring to the registration legwork —handled by RIA in a Box —that allowed him to start his RIA firm in Mira Loma, Calif., last year.
The success of RIA in a Box illustrates just how fast RIA firms have been popping up in recent years. From 2002 to 2010, investment adviser registrations increased from 7,581 to 11,643, or about 500 firms per year, according to the Investment Adviser Association, in Washington.
From his perch at RIA in a Box, Gronich has seen different groups flooding into the RIA business over the years. Most have been, and continue to be, breakaway brokers.
About four years ago, insurance agents started joining the mix, in what Gronich said was a bid to gain legal protections.
A year or two later, when Forbes magazine declared financial adviser to be one of the best career-change jobs in the country, RIA in a Box was inundated with inquiries from everyone from construction workers to schoolteachers to writers.
Today, Gronich's clients are almost exclusively breakaway brokers, and he foresees no falloff in demand.
Gronich ended up in his highly successful career much by accident.
He used to work as a CPA at a large accounting firm. When the company decided to set up an RIA, he helped two senior partners handle the application. Using that experience, Gronich eventually left the company and started helping other CPAs to register.
"I was eventually able to do registrations in my sleep," Gronich said.
"My wife says, 'You should do it for the general public,' so here we are."
RIA in a Box started out being completely transactional; it got advisers registered, and handled their annual renewal process.
Two years ago, the company added a post-registration arm, Lexington Compliance. It specializes in compliance matters, and its services include monthly informational webinars hosted by a former South Dakota regulator.
Gronich said demand is such that his company could double its staff tomorrow and stay busy, but he admits that his ambition has its limits.
"I was never trying to take over the world," he said. "There's enough business to go around for the seven or eight of us legitimate consulting firms to make a ton of money."
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