RIA Edge 100: Brighton Jones

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About five years ago, the Brighton Jones executive team thought hard about getting into the mergers and acquisitions game. The Seattle-based firm was managing around $4 billion in client assets from six offices in five states.

“We saw our competitors who were in this mad dash to pay for additional revenue,” said Chief Experience Officer Carley Dillon. “We talked to some firms but realized that combining two separate cultures wasn’t something we wanted to focus on at that point.”

“At the end of the day, we just really didn’t want to pay for additional revenue,” she said.

The firm’s principals decided Brighton would focus on marketing, lead generation programs and referrals—and while some firms at that size may start to separate business development roles away from the advisor, Brighton would rely on the advisors themselves to bring in new business. The firm has focused on cultivating young talent—hiring scores of young advisors—and reaching younger clients with potential for significant growth to increase revenue by 20% a year.

Brighton Jones grew AUM by more than 70% year over year between 2018 and 2021, from $4.9 billion to $8.4 billion. Today, the firm manages approximately $9.5 billion in assets for more than 2,600 clients in 33 states. With 134 advisors—71 of whom are CFPs—the firm boasts an advisor-to-client ratio of one to 20, and has one CFP for every 38 clients.

Rapid growth, a focus on talent management and a high number of professional certifications earned Brighton Jones a place on WealthManagement.com’s RIA Edge 100 list, released in February.

Founded by CEO Jon Jones and Managing Partner Charles Brighton, both CPAs at the time, the firm comprises four business segments: a “personal CFO” wealth management service that works closely with the firm’s tax advisory business and a newer institutional retirement planning business complemented by OpenPlan, a virtual wealth management service created for young investors in the early stages of their career.

According to Dillon, OpenPlan offers help with everything from retirement planning and first-time home purchases to contract negotiations, employee benefits or even just setting up checking and savings accounts.

“More and more young people are focused on their future,” said Dillon. “It’s a great opportunity to get some early life patterns established, get some good routines. And then, once they hit $1 million of investible assets, we provide them with personal CFO services as their career and their investible assets get more complex and concentrated.”

OpenPlan is offered as an additional service for employees of Brighton’s business-owner clients, and the firm has begun a digital marketing campaign leveraging various online strategies to reach more young professionals, including targeted marketing and educational webinars.

“We also talk about the service that we provide to our existing personal CFO clients,” said Dillon. “And we’ve learned this is a great entry service for a lot of our clients’ kids.”

Since the beginning of 2018, Brighton Jones has hired around 170 new employees. An overwhelming majority of those are under the age of 40, including a good number of recent graduates. Most are advisors, but the firm also added tax, marketing and administrative employees, as well as roles around corporate development, technology, education, client services and mental health, among others.

“We have a robust intern program. This summer, we’ve got 20 interns starting across the country, individuals that are in their junior year in college and curious about what it looks like to be a CPA and or to be a CFP,” said Dillon. “We want to hire analysts early in their career and ensure they understand what this career is and the opportunities that it has. And then we try to promote from within.”

Young wealth management recruits begin as associate advisors and progress through the stages of advisor, senior advisor, manager, senior manager and, finally, lead advisor. Once an advisor passes their CFP exam, they’re eligible to become managers and equity owners.

“One of the ways that we have found that we’re keeping great people and really able to invest in our great culture is that they get ownership once they get their CFP, along with stock appreciation rights, and those vest over seven years,” Dillon explained. “I think that’s certainly part of the secret sauce.”

All lead advisors are expected to increase revenue by 10% annually through client referrals and self-directed prospecting. In 2022, client referrals drove around a third of the firm’s new business, said Dillon.

“What we’ve seen is that from a growth and revenue perspective, many of our competitors depend on market growth to really provide the overall boost in revenue,” she said. “And for us, we have a really intentional strategy to grow organically by 20% a year.”

Brighton invests in a robust digital marketing program, educational webinars for prospects, in-person events and uses the lead referral program from their custodian, Fidelity. The firm has even begun sending mailers through the post office in response to clients who indicated they want “to get back to basics.”

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In addition to leveraging Brighton’s retirement plan business and OpenPlan to bring in new clients, the firm has also established inroads into the pool of retirement plan participants at companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, Nike and United Health Group.

“We’ll reach out to those companies and offer our services through a webinar or comprehensive manuals and how-to guides,” said Dillon. “And the companies greatly appreciate the resource. It’s an unofficial partnership, but there’s a recognition of the value that’s provided for employees.”

The firm has been consistently hitting its growth goals, said Dillon, but profit margins vary based on reinvestments Brighton is making. In recent years, there has been a focus on building out the firm’s tech stack and a new advisor-and-client-based platform, as well as continuing to recruit new talent. Brighton is currently hiring 13 tax managers, 11 advisors, four client service roles, three operational positions and one marketing professional.

“The way we think about it is that we are growing future lead advisors,” said Dillon. “And we think about what revenue each will be responsible for managing and growing and then ensure that we create the support teams for those lead advisors that allow us to build trust and credibility with our clients.”

She said she likes to see lead advisors managing around $750,000 in revenue, supported by one or two newer advisors, with a specialized advisor handling things like taxes or real estate investments.

“We don’t ask clients to be the nexus point and the connectors to multiple professionals—we are that for them,” said Dillon. “We do their taxes, we do their planning, and we do their investments all in one place. We also offer them the opportunity to connect with in-house estate planners, in-house real estate experts, in-house private investments and an in-house philanthropy team.

“A one-stop-shop expertise is what clients value,” she said. “Make it simple, make it quality, make my life easier. And I think that’s really resonating.”

https://www.wealthmanagement.com/ria-news/ria-edge-100-brighton-jones

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