WEALTHTECH INSIDER: How Big RIAs Are Using Technology To Scale Smart


If wealth management firms want to scale up through technology, they should take note of their peers who are already succeeding.

Technologist, blogger and all-around advisor guru Michael Kitces reports that advisors spend around 50% of their time on back-office tasks for clients, but only 20% of their time actually meeting with those clients. The heavy time investment required by the current advisor back office leaves little time for keeping up with clients and even less for business development and client prospecting.

Technology can help wealth management businesses discover operational efficiency, allowing staff to spend less time on day-to-day, repetitive tasks and more time on value-additive client-facing activities—because the more efficient an advisor becomes, the more they have to nurture client relationships.

But firms have to select the right technology if they want to get the best return on their investment. Seemingly small choices—which CRM to use, what risk analytics platform to adopt, what type of portfolio management system to implement, whether to have a client portal and what types of features to include within it—have a big impact today, and will have a bigger impact in the days to come as consumers and the industry continue to shift towards a digital-first mentality.

For example, three RIA mega-firms have embraced Orion’s technology and services to catalyze their growth.

How Mariner Wealth Advisors Finds More Time For Its Clients

Mariner Wealth Advisors was founded in 2006 with eight employees and one location, but has now grown to 60 locations and 1,000 team members. It has been named a top-five RIA firm by Barrons five-straight years.

Mariner co-founder, President and CEO Marty Bicknell adopted a “client-first” philosophy for his firm, building around what clients need, adding services as they grew.

While most RIAs spend around 55% of their time on client-facing activities, with the other 45% spread across necessities administrative tasks, investment management and training and professional development, Mariner estimates that its advisors spend 80% of their time on client-facing activities.

That focus on the client is only possible because Mariner has put in place a technology stack that helps advisors be more efficient with their  time, using Orion’s solutions for billing, reporting, compliance and more.

Without the burden of tedious, repetitive tasks, the additional efficiency allows Mariner’s advisors to abide by Bicknell’s client-first philosophy.

Bicknell recently participated in Orion’s’ Work Smarter webinar series to share his views on growth, technology and the client experience.

How SignatureFD Uses Tech To View People And Processes Differently

While smaller than behemoth Mariner, Atlanta-based SignatureFD is a growing RIA with $5.5 billion in assets spread among 1,400 client families.

SignatureFD is using technology to grow smarter by adopting what it calls a “Net Worthwhile” philosophy. “Net Worthwhile” combines the idea of accumulation of more with the ideal of achievement of better.

SignatureFD uses the Net Worthwhile concept both with client families and in its own strategic planning. For clients, it moves the conversation away from dollar amounts and percentages and towards goals-based financial planning.

But true goals-based financial planning requires recording and tracking a lot of data on behalf of clients, as understanding a client’s holistic financial picture allows SignatureFD’s advisors to engage them right away and in the right way. The RIA uses Orion’s tech stack to feed data into analytical tools that help effectively run the business.

But Orion’s ability to streamline and automate investment processes has also been of service to SignatureFD—the firm worked with Orion to develop an Alternative Investment Platform tool that eliminated the need to track most alternatives with spreadsheets and manually entered data—not only improving efficiency, but accuracy as well.

This allows SignatureFD to offer a better client experience.

SignatureFD’s Laura Hubbel, director of client care and operations, recently joined Orion’s Work Smarter webinar series to discuss efficiency in people, processes and technology.

How Carson Wealth Keeps Growing, And Growing, And Growing

Carson Wealth, another mega-RIA, was founded in 1983 by Ron Carson and has grown to encompass 300 partner advisors. It has also become a major advisor services provider. For example Carson Coaching offers one of the largest advisor coaching programs in the U.S., while Carson Partners allows advisors to receive marketing,, technology, compliance, investments, succession planning and merger and acquisition support.

Carson uses Orion to scale and simplify their advisors’ back- and middle-office operations, which in addition to giving them more time with their clients also gives them the ability to grow.

Part of Orion’s offering is a flexible, open API framework that gives advisors real-time data on their clients. Thanks to APIs from Orion and RIA custodians, Carson was able to streamline client onboarding via a new online account opening process, which helped it continue to grow during the pandemic when office closures, quarantines and lockdowns made in-person meeting difficult.

Carson, already a fast-growing, successful RIA, adopts technology to keep its business moving forward. A clear technology roadmap can help firms plan ahead and remain on-target for their strategic objectives, but only if all the right stakeholders are on board.

For example, at Carson Group, technology is adopted with the advisor, the service team and the end-client experience in mind. Orion takes feedback from the multiple stakeholders to help create targeted solutions for advisors. The client experience is at the center of this focus.

Carson’s Lantz Hunt recently joined Orion’s Work Smarter webinar series to discuss how processes and systems behind the scenes—like integrations—can make a huge impression on the client experience.

The Bottom Line

Recent research from Cerulli Associates found that technology adoption is a clear differentiator among wealth management firms. On average, heavy technology users managed $239 million per practice, while medium users managed $183 million.

Light technology users, on the other hand, only managed $106 million on average.

So choosing the right technology can make all the difference in the world to your firm’s success. Good choices may lead to more efficiency, and an improved client experience.