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RIAs step up to the COVID-19 challenge

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Surprises abound in this year’s RIA Leaders ranking. At the outset, we expected planners would tell stories about their struggles: coronavirus, shuttered offices, economic turmoil, jittery clients. But that’s not what they focused on.

“It was surprising to hear how many positives advisors see in a very tumultuous year,” contributing writer Kenneth Corbin tells me. “They all recalled dark periods and difficult transitions to all-remote work, but they didn't dwell on that.”

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Instead, advisors were invigorated by new planning challenges. “Clients are rethinking their financial plans with a new perspective informed by the pandemic,” Corbin says. “They're thinking more deeply about important issues like philanthropy, estate planning and their legacies.”

Not only that, but advisors say pandemic-related shutdowns also forced their firms to quickly onboard long-promised new technology. Now they have better tools to service clients and more efficient ways to connect when they are out of the office.

“With few exceptions, advisors and clients have come to accept video conferencing as a way of life,” Corbin writes in “High touch, high tech,” on page 18, which accompanies our 7th RIA Leaders ranking. For this exclusive ranking, we worked with data partner RIA in a Box to identify the country’s largest independent, fee-only planning firms. We excluded firms that take commissions or retain broker-dealer or insurance company affiliations.

While it’s tempting to flip immediately to the list, I urge you to first consider what top-ranked RIAs told us. Together, their insights paint a picture of the future of the planning industry.

RIA Leaders 2020: Top 15 firms ranked by AUM
These firms oversee more than $185 billion in combined assets.

Video conferences are here to stay. Office sizes will shrink. Many advisors will continue to work from home at least several days a week. And firms will increasingly embrace new digital tools to make it all work.

“My sense is that Patrick Goshtigian of EP Wealth Advisors has it right,” Corbin tells me. “The future will be a hybrid that sees a return to the face-to-face meetings that are a staple of the business, but also retains the best of the new digital tools that advisors have been adopting.”

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