Here’s a million-dollar question for RIAs: What does independence mean to you?
For many new firms, freedom is the driving factor for going independent and leaving the cookie-cutter, compliant world of wirehouses and broker-dealers.
But independence doesn’t always translate to freedom. For one thing: Running a new business is hard. Newly independent advisors are now faced with back-office tasks, many for the first time, in addition to continuing to serve clients.
It’s a juggling act Ben Warren, Joe Gates, and Brian Deely remember well. The trio started Clear Creek Financial Management in 2014 because, as Deely puts it, “The way we were running our business didn’t fit well in the broker-dealer world, and we wanted to shift to an RIA.”
They navigated the shift to independence as a team, prioritizing their tech stack as a way to handle the backend, and within a year, an advisor reached out hoping to make the same shift; they became Clear Creek’s first add-on.
Now, the team behind Clear Creek is trying to bring the freedom of independence to more advisors, while minimizing the hassle of additional backend work. On paper, it’s a tuck-in. In practice, it’s a new approach to independence.
Technology — including Advyzon — is a driving factor behind what Clear Creek describes as their “co-op for advisors” model of independent collaboration. According to Warren, the team uses economies of scale to make what they do possible. “We pay up front for all of the discounts,” he explains. “Then collect monthly from advisors to reflect true costs.”
He adds: “Our pitch to advisors is complete transparency. They know every cost. And we don’t try to generate profit on items that aren’t providing value — things like research and planning software.”
That means partner advisors get access to planning software, like eMoney, for less than what they’d pay as a solo user and with no upcharge. Clear Creek also offers access to a number of portfolio modeling systems, from the TD Ameritrade model marketplace to Envestnet and Assetmark. Beyond that, the firm runs an in-house TAMP backed by Helios Quantitative Research.
Technology is just part of the backend office support that often seals the deal for prospective advisors. Compliance is handled by Clear Creek — meaning partner advisors with individual offices don’t need to file their own Form ADVs. Billing and reporting are also handled by Clear Creek, which more closely resembles the B/D experience many of their partner advisors are used to. But this time, the support doesn’t come with a huge price tag.
Clear Creek advisors keep 85-90% of the fees they generate. There’s no additional OSJ fee, no program fee, no tech fee. It takes roughly four days from the time Clear Creek initiates billing until the cash lands in advisor bank accounts.
That, paired with minimal involvement on things like billing, one major benefit, per Deely: “It’s infinite more time to spend on your business.”
Beyond the backend tech support and financial upside, Clear Creek also encourages partner advisors to operate as d.b.a.s, meaning firms can choose (or keep) their own name. Firms also have the freedom to handle their own branding and marketing so they can attract their ideal clients. Fee structure is also completely up to the partner firm; there are no preset schedules or rules, and Clear Creek doesn’t set asset minimums for clients.
Working as a d.b.a. with your own branding and clients can feel a lot like working as a totally independent firm that outsources back-office support. But Clear Creek aims to be more than that to its partners. The team knows that independence can be isolating, so they try to create an environment of collaboration with their tuck-ins.
“If one advisor is growing a lot, they can show other firms how and share value,” explains Gates, echoing the co-op-for-advisors’ mentality. At the home office, they also use this collaborative method. “We’ll get up and share things that we see that are successful. It’s another reason a lot of firms come to us — they don’t want to work by themselves.”
That means that when the home office puts out a newsletter or blog posts, any partner advisor is allowed to use it. Deely jokes that the core team sometimes serves as guinea pigs for new ideas, noting that he works with a Charles Schwab business coach to figure out some of the nuances of profitability — learnings he can then roll out to affiliates.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, this collaborative approach extends to how Clear Creek selects and onboards new firms and advisors. There’s a six-month process leading up to the initial breakaway where Clear Creek finds out more about how the new firm runs its business, what the core team likes and doesn’t like, the potential solutions, and how the firm can position their shift to Clear Creek when speaking with clients.
This attention to detail and people-first approach to the process shows up in the retention numbers. When firms join Clear Creek, more than 90% of their clients stay with the firm through the transition, according to Warren. In fact, many are excited for the move, since part of the transition involves generating buzz about the new opportunities of going independent as a tuck-in.
The Clear Creek team initially started with a different all-in-one platform thanks to a free year subscription. Now, however, Deely, Gates, and Warren say they “couldn’t imagine” building a business with another tech provider, both from a cost and staffing perspective.
The Clear Creek team says Advyzon helped them grow in a few ways. First, there’s the ability to create multiple fee schedules for different affiliate offices and the households therein. Plus, the platform offers multiple levels of access, meaning Clear Creek only needs one Advyzon subscription for all its different offices.
Plus, Advyzon’s efficient billing system enables firms and advisors to choose whatever fee structure they want, while still enabling Deely to execute that four-day turnaround for billing and payouts. Plus, Clear Creek does all of this without a dedicated IT staff, something the founders don’t think would have been possible if they had stuck with their original provider.
But while the exceptional technology helps, it’s the unmatched service that won the team over and continues to impress. “It was a game changer for us from day one. We didn’t know how big of a deal that was, the personal touch,” says Deely. “We liked having access to the developers.”
In some ways, Clear Creek grew up alongside Advyzon. Both firms went live around the same time. Clear Creek could ask for features it wanted, and Advyzon often worked them into development. That feedback loop is something Advyzon still uses, listening to advisors in terms of what to build next and how to prioritize new features and integrations.
Read Clear Creek’s testimonial here.
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