Thomas Seiler started thinking about making the switch back in 2003. For many years, Seiler, head of the Newtown, Pa.-based The Seiler Group of Raymond James, focused on business owners and CEOs. Then, during a conversation with a college football coach, he learned that many of the man’s former allegiances had joined the NFL—only to break up within a few years.
That conversation got Seeler thinking and, 10 years ago, inspired him to develop an entirely different focus: young athletes who were about to be pro. This meant everything from running educational workshops for athletes still in school to creating departments targeting each major sport. “I actually doubled down on this place,” he says.
Now, about one-third of his business—who has a net worth of $1.2 billion—is from professional athletes, and he expects to eventually grow closer to 100%, as his clients begin signing their second and third. , usually more-profitable, contracts.
Rich Reap Niches
By expertise, consultants stand out in the market and attract more affluent clients. According to Kitces.com, compared to top advisors who don’t target a niche, for example, those who do have, on average, clients with 25% more investable assets and produce 20% higher plan fees. Huh.
But for some advisors, staying in the same one or two areas is not enough. These people decide to add more to the mix or replace the old niches altogether. Sometimes, they are motivated by the allure of a potentially even more attractive feature. In others, they develop a driving interest in a particular group or the belief that a new niche matches well with an old one. Ashley Folks, director of marketing and development strategies at Bridgworth Wealth Management in Birmingham, Al., says, “Consultants may find they are very passionate about working with a specific group of people or complement a certain area that they are previously in. are from.”
Scott Eichler, founder of Standing Oak Advisors in Fullerton, Cal., is among the team that decided to shift gears because they found their new goal more compelling. Notably, about three years ago, when he was with Newport Wealth Advisors, an RIA he joined in 2010, he began an investigation focusing on small business owners from retirees. Growing up in a family of small business owners, Eichler said he was naturally drawn to that audience. In addition, he realized that the place of retirement was getting too crowded. “Everyone was struggling to make ends meet with retirees,” he says. In December 2020, when he left his old firm to start Standing Oak, Eicher turned his attention to all business owners, with an emphasis on an exit plan.
try, try again
As with any niche, whether first or tenth, advisors cannot assume that their initial goal will be over or that they will need further refinement. For example, when Eichler began looking for small business owners, he also considered executives from public companies. Many of their needs, such as deferring taxes and protecting their assets, were similar, he thought. But he soon realized that he did not like working with the authorities. “I used to struggle with his personality,” he says. “They’re very used to yes men, whereas business owners tend to be more problem solvers.”
Similarly, about five years ago, Brett Fellows. The founder and president of Oak Capital Advisors in Charleston, SC, realized he was tired of his long-time goal of women going through divorce. “It didn’t bring joy to me,” he says. “Someone is in a divorce – that’s very little point for them.” Their first move was to target business owners. But this did not seem to be happening anywhere. He knew, however, that he preferred to work with women, who he felt were better planners than men. Eventually, they narrowed down their market for female business owners to opt out of the plan. Then they refined it even further for companies with revenues of $10 million or less and one to five employees. Also, since most business owners have net assets tied up in their businesses, they changed their pricing model from AUM charges to monthly fees.
Prospecting and Staffing
This is a rare niche switcher that doesn’t work with its old customers. And if they are adding rather than replacing a particular market, they keep looking for new possibilities in that area. But consultants who want to replace their old niches with new ones usually don’t do much, or do any prospecting at all, in their previous areas of expertise. And they can also encourage interrelationship between customers belonging to old and new niches. For example, Sealer devotes all of its marketing efforts to young athletes. And about 10 years ago, they formed a six-client board of advisors, made up of business professionals and current or former professional athletes. Often, business-savvy board members offer mentorship and even internships to young athletes who are considering their post-sport life plans.
As far as staff is concerned, replacement or addition does not always require the addition of new consultants, employees or other resources to the firm. But it often happens. When Seiler investigated what was needed to serve his new market, he decided it meant going above and beyond the usual level of service. He realized that these young people, suddenly handed over important assets, needed a unique kind of handholding.
With this in mind, as he began to increase the space of his young athletes, he aligned his staff with four four-man teams, each focused on a different major league sport. In addition to investment advice, they provide everything from financial planning to budgeting. “Our customers need 24-7 service, someone who can help out at an ATM in London and their card gets stuck in the machine,” he says.
In some cases, even more drastic steps may be required to gain access to necessary resources. Consider Rick Tasker, who tried to find supplement niches for his core market. Specifically, this means placing its long-term specialty in pension counseling to link participant-directed defined contribution retirement plans and non-qualified retirement, municipal and cash balance plans.
To that end, at the end of last year he merged his firm Epoch Consulting Group (approximately $900 million in assets) with Robertson Stephens Wealth Management (over $3.6 billion in assets). They made this move largely to gain access to Robertson’s clients, along with better technology, a dedicated investment department and more compliance personnel.
Especially for mentors targeting a new location, learning in and out of an unfamiliar area takes time. This is especially true for complex fields that involve unexpected nuances. For example, Seiler didn’t immediately understand the level of help his young, inexperienced clients were getting. “The first three or four athletes were a steep learning curve,” he says.