RIA Leaders Prioritize Marketing and Business Development

Marketing leaders are excelling in their ability to plan effectively, instill their firm story and apply a disciplined referral process.

The “2014 Fidelity RIA Benchmarking” study found marketing leaders spend 33% more of their revenue on business development and marketing, compared with other registered investment advisers (RIAs), and are seeing 40% more client growth, 23% more asset growth and 20% more revenue growth.

Conversely, when it comes to marketing and business development, only 5% of other RIA firms felt their capabilities were advanced, and only 30% felt they were fairly strong.

“This is good news for the 65% of RIA firms that do not feel as strong at marketing: Investing in marketing can pay off, but it’s not just about what you spend,” explains Mathias Hitchcock, vice president, practice management and consulting, Fidelity Clearing and Custody. “An investment in time can be just as important. Committing time to even the most fundamental areas of marketing, such as developing a plan or creating a referral process, can yield big gains when it comes to overall growth.”

The study identified five distinct behavioral characteristics of marketing leaders that could benefit other RIA firms.

First, marketing leaders prioritize growth, spending about 2.4% of their revenue on marketing and business development. Compared with other RIA firms, they devote more resources to initiatives that can help positively impact their firm’s growth, including working on a marketing plan and a strategy for centers of influence (COIs), and taking time to improve the sales process.

Of firms with a marketing plan, 45% of leaders are very satisfied with the effectiveness of their plan, versus 7% of other RIAs. Marketing leaders plan effectively, as a large majority (88%) have a written marketing strategy that they update semiannually or annually. They recognize the importance of outling clear goals and assigning responsibility for different tasks, as well as the need to monitor progress.


With increased competition, the need for all RIAs to have a story that describes their business model while setting them apart from others is essential. The third key quality of marketing leaders is their ability to ingrain their firm story. The survey shows 73% of leaders have created a clearly defined firm story, versus 47% of other RIAs. They believe the firm’s story is consistently reflected in all their marketing materials, which helps reinforce their message and create a strong image.

Fourth, marketing leaders generate new business opportunities through operational discipline. Having strong relationships is vital, and the study reveals three-quarters of an adviser’s new clients come from referrals made by current clients or COIs. Marketing leaders are more than twice as likely as other RIAs to have an advanced or fairly strong client referral process, at 46% versus 22%. Authors of the study note best practices in this area include having a clear plan, telling a compelling firm story tailored to target client needs, and communicating target client profiles to referral sources.

The final characteristic leaders exhibit is the ability to maximize their marketing mix. Results show the top three activities used by all RIA firms to reach out to clients, prospects and COIs are communications, collateral and events. However, marketing leaders exhibit more depth in usage, with 58% using all three, compared with 40% of other RIAs. They also pursue social media, traditional advertising and public relations more than other RIAs.

The practices observed by marketing leaders can help other RIAs enhance their own business-building capabilities to improve their growth trajectory. According to the study, prioritizing and investing in marketing can result in greater client, asset and revenue growth for these firms.

The online study was conducted from May 6 through June 30, 2014, to analyze more than 600 firms, primarily RIAs that custody some portion of their assets with Fidelity. The complete report is available here.