Here's Why That's a Good Thing
Every year Barron’s comes out with a list of the Top Financial Advisors in the US. They name 1200 of the Best Advisors, and further break it down by each state. The number of advisors varies state to state, and in the year 2018 there are 30 Top Financial Advisors in Virginia who made the list. While I’ve made the list a few times, I’m not very good at ranking high.
This year I am ranked #8 in Virginia, but I have never made their top 100 Advisors in the US. And if you’re my client: that’s a good thing.
Given the reputation at Barrons, you might think their lists would be based off things like client or account performance. Or even client satisfaction. Other lists use various criteria. Barron uses something so odd that I will likely never make their national list, and will unlikely rank number 1 in my state.
All publications do their best when trying to sift through the data and name the top professionals. Barron’s even takes the extra step of ranking them numerically, unlike publications such as the Washingtonian in DC, which lists their Top Financial Advisors here.
So what are the typical ways to decipher who are the Best Financial Advisors for the list?
Publications like the Washingtonian do peer recommendations—they ask that you name 3 financial professionals who don’t work at your firm. And they’re asking accountants, attorneys, and others outside of the industry who may work closely with advisors. Of course there are Pros and Cons of this method. The Pro: people who are respected might get named more often and get enough recognition to make the list. The Con: if there are several mediocre people naming each other, they’ll likely end up on the list.
Most lists will dive into regulatory findings and look for complaints or red flags, but that’s usually a final step just to make sure there aren’t any skeletons hidden in the closet. Other lists, such as Financial Advisor Magazine or Investment News base their list on assets under management. This completely quantitative method of ranking gives very little insight into the work of the advisor, and certainly doesn’t tell you if they’re doing right by the clients.
Now let’s get back to Barron’s—what do they do? According to their site, Barron uses the following criteria:
“Our rankings are based on assets under management, revenue generated by advisors for their firms, and the quality of the advisors’ practices.”
Their idea is that if a financial advisor is successful at advising existing clients, those clients will stick around and grow their relationship with that advisor, and refer more people.
Before I go any further, let me be clear—I’m on Barron’s list in Virginia. I have been for a number of years, and I’m grateful to be on it. The challenge is that, because the Barron’s Top Financial Advisors list is based—at least in part— on assets and revenue (fees, commissions, etc), there are many advisors throughout the country who don’t make it. It's frustrating to see people that I know personally who are phenomenal financial advisors, financial planners, and investment managers, who might charge less, or have less total assets under management, or who cater to a smaller clientele, they won’t make the list.
Case in point—Barron’s Top Financial Advisors in Washington, DC.
In the District, there are 24 Top Advisors on this list. Each and every one works for one of 5 major brokerage firms. They may be great Financial Advisors, don’t get me wrong, but is there not a single financial advisor in Washington, DC who happens to be unaffiliated with a brokerage firm and has fiduciary status? According to Barron’s—no.
In all of Maryland, Virgina, and Washington, DC, Barron's named 78 on their Top Advisor Lists. Only three are fee-only fiduciaries; none at all in Maryland or DC. And of the 78 named, only 6 are women.
Why do I think I ranked on the list at all? And what’s keeping me from ranking higher? Barron’s doesn’t provide the exact ranking formula, so there’s no way to know for sure. I believe that our assets under management ($1.1 billion) likely qualifies us to make the state list. But what’s likely holding us back is the revenue figure. With an average fee less than 0.7%, I believe we just don’t charge enough to rank higher.
No top advisor list is perfect, and Barron’s gets many things right, including weeding out advisors with recent or egregious complaints. They also seem to make sure to cover lesser populated parts of the country.
I am pleased to be on their list as one of the few fee-only fiduciaries. And for my clients’ sake, I’ll gladly take the number 8 spot.
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Here are a few lists of both Advisors and Firms that I believe use more valuable criteria when making their selection.
I might be a bit biased for this list - after all, I made it. But it is my honest opinion of local advisors who I personally know and respect in the industry.
Best Place to Work
Washingtonian, the Washington Business Journal, and Inc. Magazine all publish a "Best Place to Work" list, based off of employee survey's, benefits offered, and firm initiatives. Although not specific to the financial industry, I believe it gives a lot of insight to a company and whether or not the firm is an environment that puts people above numbers.