Redefining excellence: The winners of the 2018 IMPACT Awards®

2018 impact winner

Discover how this year's winners are creating new possibilities within the independent model.

The independent Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) model gives advisors the flexibility to design their own futures and serve their clients their way. As you look back on your own experiences over the past year and plan for making next year even better, take a few cues from some of the industry’s standout firms.

Each year, Schwab recognizes leading RIA firms at the IMPACT Awards ceremony. Recipients represent the values that define RIAs: boldness, innovative thinking, and a client-first approach. This year, we recognize four firms that put these values into action every day, improving their client service and leading the wealth management industry forward in the process.

Meet the 2018 IMPACT Award winners, discover the unique reasons for their success, and find inspiration to take your own firm to the next level.

2018 Best-in-Business IMPACT Award™

JMG Financial Group: If you can't find it, build it

Best in business
"To us, the most important thing is to have people who actually care about what they do—always asking, 'Is this really the best way to do it? Is there a better way?'" —Yonhee Gordon, chief operating officer, JMG Financial Group

JMG Financial Group tailors its approach and services to serve clients with unique and challenging needs—primarily C-level executives with complex tax and estate planning issues. JMG stays ahead of evolving client needs by customizing and even developing its own proprietary technology. For example, the firm developed its own customer relationship management system and applications to help different systems communicate with each other.

"We've historically found that what we need is lacking in the marketplace," says CEO Anthony Cecchini. "So, we design to fit the need."

To ensure in-house expertise advances along with new technology, JMG created a Client Technology Expert team, made up of a rotating group of support staff that learns about new technology and becomes a go-to resource for colleagues and clients who have questions.  

Rotating responsibilities also extend to firm management. Every five years, a different management team member takes on the role of chief compliance officer, getting critical exposure to SEC requirements and cybersecurity matters.  

This investment in technology and training to serve client needs has paid off in long-lasting relationships: On average, clients have been with JMG for a decade, advisors have been with the firm for an average of 18 years, and 95% of new clients come from referrals.

As you think about your own clients, consider: How can you design your services around their specific needs? What expertise could you build in-house to demonstrate your commitment and elevate your offering?

2018 Best-in-Retirement Business IMPACT Award™

Fiduciary Investment Advisors: Service, service, service

"We follow a disciplined process that really makes clients feel very comfortable that they are meeting all their fiduciary obligations and that they're doing the best they can to achieve the best results for their participants."

—Mark Wetzel, president, Fiduciary Investment Advisors

The team at Fiduciary Investment Advisors (FIA) included the word fiduciary in their firm name to highlight what's most important to them: the best interests of their clients. The firm provides customized investment advisory services to retirement plan sponsors, institutional investment pools, nonprofits, and private clients.

For FIA, living up to the promise of the firm's name has meant evolving and tailoring services to meet the changing long-term needs of clients and retirement plan participants. To do this, the firm's team leverages a variety of technology platforms, web and mobile apps, and automated services to help plan sponsors keep participants engaged and on track.

The firm also designed an internal tool—its Governance Calendar—to synthesize client data and ensure that issues such as fee allocation, regulatory updates, and changing participant demographics are addressed in a timely manner.

FIA's management believes that building lasting relationships with their employees is also crucial to building a trusted business. As the company has grown each year, management has been able to ensure more meaningful career paths for employees, recruit diverse talent, and keep everyone in the firm connected to FIA's mission.

"Every employee knows it's all about the clients," says CEO Mark Wetzel. "Service, service, service: It's the key to keeping clients happy. If you keep your existing clients happy, everything takes care of itself from there."

As your firm grows, ask yourself: How are you keeping your clients and employees engaged? Are you offering more—and better—insights to your clients over time? Are your internal tools and processes keeping up with changing needs?

2018 Trailblazer IMPACT Award™

The Colony Group: Always evolving

The Colony Group
"Our vision is to be a company that offers everything that even the largest wirehouses can offer – and more – while, operating in a client-centric, fee-only manner where it isn't all about making money. We think it should first be about finding meaning and joy." —Michael Nathanson, chief executive officer, The Colony Group

In assessing a potential merger, the management team at The Colony Group prioritizes one idea above all else: Will this make us better than before?

This strategy has proved successful. Mergers have brought additional talent and expertise to the firm, leading to innovative initiatives that deliver more holistic services to a broader range of clients, including athletes, corporate executives, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and professionals. Along with wealth management and tax planning, the firm is now branching out into business management and life-enrichment solutions that support physical and emotional wellness, lifestyle enhancement, and career and lifelong learning pursuits.  

"Our clients trust us and share so much of their lives with us," says Jennifer Geoghegan, chief strategy officer. "It's just natural for us to transition and expand into other services that help them enjoy their wealth and their lives."

One of The Colony Group's most successful programs, the Her Wealth® initiative, focuses on educating women on issues related to financial wellness. The program includes weekly articles, radio programming, and even a scholarship for women pursuing CFP® certification, working to become a CPA, or working toward a financial degree.

The Colony Group has also invested in innovation beyond its own firm. Last year, CEO Michael Nathanson co-founded ScratchWorks, a collaboration among five advisory firms and the first fintech accelerator of its kind in the wealth management industry. 

The firm sets an inspiring example of what independence can mean. Along with new clients and employees, what more can a merger bring to your firm? How can you find new ways to deepen relationships with clients and put their best interests first, beyond standard wealth management services? 

2018 Pacesetter IMPACT Award™

Rebalance LLC: Daring to be different

Rebalance LLC
"We grew up as disruptors, so we don't care what others in the industry do, or how they do it. We just knew that most investors were paying too much, getting conflicting advice, and that there had to be a better way." —Mitch Tuchman, managing director, Rebalance

Rebalance LLC's founders and managing directors, Mitch Tuchman and Scott Puritz, started their careers as entrepreneurs before moving into wealth management. As outsiders, they felt committed to doing business differently: The firm advocates for the average investor and uses a combination of robo-investing and personal advice to deliver high-quality service at a lower cost.

By the time Rebalance launched in 2013, the firm had a national reputation as a consumer advocate, with management often speaking out about the importance of the fiduciary standard. Puritz testified before the U.S. Senate, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Labor about the need to protect consumers and make retirement investing safer for all Americans. The firm also uses lectures, articles, blog posts, and video tutorials to educate potential clients about the basics of investing.

"We started out being part of the wave of organizations trying to transform just investment management," Puritz says. "That's evolved into the second tidal wave of transforming all of wealth management."

Rebalance's ambition has always been national. To serve clients anytime, anywhere, the entire business relies on a completely virtual infrastructure for client communication, recordkeeping, and back-office processes. Team members are located around the country, mainly clustered around the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C. This flexible, virtual setup has made it easier for Rebalance's advisors to serve a wider range of clients efficiently and effectively.

Rebalance's success demonstrates the possibilities inherent in the RIA model and the benefits of having a bold mission—a why—that can resonate with clients and guide your firm. How can your firm disrupt business as usual? How could you deliver on your mission in new ways?

Discover more about the IMPACT Awards

For the past 13 years, the Schwab IMPACT Awards have recognized leading RIAs for their innovative ideas and inspiring results. For more information on the awards and to read the full profile of each winner, visit the IMPACT® website.

To learn how you can apply some of the best practices from this year's winners at your own firm, reach out to your Schwab Relationship Manager.