Ep. 197: Unleashing Potential: A Next-Gen Advisor Platform with Shannon Spotswood, RFG Advisory

“And so the decision was made of what if you could start over what if you could have a clean foundation, and you could very thoughtfully construct this this platform where you put And advisor independence at the core and the nucleus. Drive all of the services and all of the experiences for advisors with this touch-owned back to the core, which is will this help you grow your business? Will this help you deepen your client relationships? Will this ultimately result in you building enterprise value on your own personal balance sheet?”

Shannon Spotswood, President, RFG Advisory

Come on in and sit back relax, you’re listening to Episode 197 of the WealthTech Today podcast. I’m your host, Craig Iskowitz, founder of Ezra Group Consulting and this podcast features interviews, news and analysis on the trends and best practices all around Wealth Management Technology.

My guest for this episode is Shannon Spotswood from RFG Advisory. We love Shannon, I’ve known her for a while. She is a 25 year industry veteran in financial services with an outstanding reputation built on leadership roles in professional management, investment banking, hedge fund management and business development.
At RFG Advisory Shannon oversees all aspects of RFG a fully integrated platform designed for independent financial advisors and the implementation of strategic initiatives contributing to advisor success. She joined RFG advisory in 2015 because she recognized the opportunity to combine her entrepreneurial experience with their passion to build an innovative advisor focused on AI of the future. One thing I’ve always admired about Shannon is her career is characterized by a blend of leadership vision and grit.

At RFG Advisory Shannon oversees all aspects of RFG a fully integrated platform designed for independent financial advisors and the implementation of strategic initiatives contributing to advisor success. She joined RFG advisory in 2015 because she recognized the opportunity to combine her entrepreneurial experience with their passion to build an innovative advisor focused on AI of the future. One thing I’ve always admired about Shannon is her career is characterized by a blend of leadership vision and grit.

Before joining RFG she’s been 20 years working in San Francisco, which is a an accomplishment all in its own right. But she was an investment banker, hedge fund portfolio manager and entrepreneur. She worked 10 years at Symphony Asset Management and $18 billion hedge fund where she spent six years as the portfolio manager of a long short equity hedge fund.

n an industry marked by accelerated change and disruption, Shannon is a standout. She’s a frequent speaker at conferences, podcasts and industry events on strategic execution, operational excellence, technology and best practices on leading recruiting and mentoring next gen talent and financial advisors. Now here’s something I didn’t know about Shannon, she also has experience working in startups having built a luxury children’s clothing brand called Busy Bees from the ground up with a partnership grew the business from inside the garage to a successful nationwide brand features in Vogue magazine and currently more than 150 stores and online.

But before we get started, if you are an executive at a broker-dealer, enterprise RIA, family office or a TAMPs, your tech debt is holding you back. Your old software platforms are rusty and falling apart and they need either a complete overhaul or to be replaced entirely. Your disparate systems don’t communicate with each other and it’s driving your operations staff and advisors crazy with manual processes and other errors. If this describes your company’s tech infrastructure you should run, not walk to our website, EzraGroup.com and fill out the Contact Us form on the home page. Our experienced team can evaluate your technology ecosystem, deliver targeted recommendations, optimize your existing systems and operations, or run an RFP or RFI to help you implement new software to help take your firm to the next level. Please subscribe to this show wherever you listen so you don’t miss an episode. Now let’s kick this thing off!

Topics Mentioned

  • Prioritizing Experiences Over Things
  • Culture and Service
  • Overcoming Integration Challenges

Episode Transcript

Craig: I’m excited to welcome our next guest is Shannon Spotswood, president of RFG Advisory. Shannon, welcome to the program. Thanks for being here.

Shannon: Thank you so much, Craig. I’m fired up for our conversation.

Craig: I’m fired up too. Where are you calling in from?

Shannon: Birmingham, Alabama, the global HQ of RFG Advisory.

Craig: That’s where like to hear. You just go back to the states, welcome back to the US from your vacation. How do you feel?

Shannon: Oh my gosh, it was the trip of a lifetime. We took our three children so my kids are 18, 16 and 15 for their first time in Europe. So two nights in Amsterdam, three nights in Paris, three nights in Rome, and four nights in Capri to end the world to or and it’s a great reminder about the importance of prioritizing our time and creating memories like that over things, experiences over things because it was magical.

Craig: It’s a great way to look at look at life and too many people don’t do that. We can do a whole work life balance podcast, but

Shannon: That’ll only part two Craig, that’ll be part two.

Craig: We’ll bring you back, we’ll do part two. For this part, let’s start with the 30-second elevator pitch for RFG.

Shannon: Absolutely. RFG is a platform for independent financial advisors that differentiates itself by delivering a truly focused mission around independence. We help advisors to build their own enterprise value on their personal balance sheet, and we surround them with all the resources that they need to do that the technology the talent, marketing and branding, compliance, operations, coaching, and most importantly, a community of like minded individuals who are obsessed with getting 1% better every day.

Craig: Where did I see that, I was at a conference. That’s a book isn’t it ? Getting 1% better every day?

Shannon: You were probably talking to me, Craig.

Craig: No it wasn’t you, there was an author in his book he was talking about to have 1% better per day at the end of the year, you’re X million percent better, right? Just a little bit, a little bit of a time.

Prioritizing Experiences Over Things

Shannon: It’s an interesting way to orient your day in day out, especially as you’re building and scaling a team and building and scaling a company. What sets RFG apart is that we were founded actually 20 years ago and 7 years ago, I partnered with the founder Bobby White and our third partner, Rick Waddell, who’s our Chief Investment Officer joined us one year later and we partnered with a mission to tear the entire 1.0 version of RFG down and rebuild a new house on the same lot. RFG 2.0.

Shannon: When you go through that journey, he had already built a successful firm, but recognized that it was a position to be able to deliver for advisors and clients the experience that they were going to need to to not only disrupt the industry, but to have multi generational impact. The decision was made of what if, what if you could start over, what if you could have a clean foundation and you could very thoughtfully construct this platform where you put advisor independence at the core and then the nucleolus and you derive all of the services and all of the experiences for advisors with touchstone back to the core, which is will this help you grow your business? Will this help you deepen your client relationships? Will this ultimately result in you building enterprise value on your own personal balance sheet?

Shannon: If you’re going to embark on a mission, and I’ll tell you in those early days, Craig is, as we were moving the company from being predominantly broke rich to advisories we were becoming multi custodial as we were building the fully integrated tech stack. We heard more often than not, it can’t be done. It’s too hard. It’s too disruptive. It’s too much change, you’re bound to fail. And against those odds and against that, like I would say consensus opinion that it was impossible. You have to get clear eyed around what are your values and we settled on a couple different things. The first one was that we were going to be a service company first, a technology company second and RIA platform third. The second core tenet was that we were going to wake up every day with a servant heart and a warrior mindset. The way that we were going to go about living to that ethos was this concept of get 1% better every day.

Shannon: If you hold yourself to that mindset standard and you recognize of course, we’re going to set you know short term goals long term goals. Of course, we’re going to be executing along the way on the strategic vision. But when you break it down, it’s like working out if you if you say to someone alright, tomorrow, you have to run a marathon, you can’t do it. But if you say a year from now you have to run a marathon and every day you’re going to run a little bit more and you’re going to do core workouts and you’re going to do the lower body upper body workouts that you have to get there then it’s it’s it’s not only achievable, you can have tremendous success in doing that. That was the idea of if we’re going to embark on this disruptive journey of change and we’re going to be committed to serving the advisors of the future. We’re going to hold ourselves to becoming 1% better every day. It gave us a common language and it also gave us a rallying cry for our advisor partners as well as for our amazing team that feels energized by that mission.

Culture and Service

Craig: I love that that’s an awesome way to run a business. I’ve read, speaking of running your business, that RFG prides itself on being a service company first, a technology company second and hybrid RIA third. Can you explain this ordering and how it resonates with advisors?

Shannon: I think one of the biggest conundrums in the industry is that the word “culture” is very easy to toss around. Of course everyone wants to have a culture that rewards hard work culture that inspires your team members and your clients to be aligned a culture that reflects your values a culture that is motivating, that is exciting, that is vibrant. That is living intentionally with purpose. For us we as we went on this journey for change, there’s always going to be a firm that’s bigger than us. There’s always going to be a firm that has deeper pockets than us that can write bigger checks than us. But what is one thing that cannot be competed away? That cannot be disintermediated? And that is your culture. But if you’re going to show up and walk the walk on a culture, we wanted it to be around this servant heart or your mindset.

Shannon: For us when we said we’re a service company first that’s what it means and it means every single team member at RFG walks in the door with one goal and one goal only. Take care of each other first and then take care of our clients like live in this world where you are called to deliver an exceptional experience to advisors. I feel as the industry is going through this tremendous change and we’re sitting in the grips of this generational wealth transfer and all the various factors that are that are shaping where we are it’s easy for firms to say yep, we’re going to differentiate ourselves on culture. We’re going to differentiate ourselves on service, but it’s actually incredibly difficult to deliver especially at scale, because it not only requires that you have guide posts up around your mindset for how you’re hiring to your team, and how you’re problem solving and how you’re showing up in meetings and how you’re receiving feedback, both positive and negative, but it it also requires that you love what you do.

Shannon: That I feel is the future of work, the one thing that the pandemic has has shown us is, yes, we can be successful in a hybrid work environment, but more importantly, people are not going to grind it out for you you know, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year without feeling this deep tying connection, that the work that they’re doing has value and is making an impact. So for us being a service company first was a non negotiable and the way that we walk the walk on this, show me your legal documents and I’ll show you the truth.

Shannon: For us wouldn’t advisors partner with RFG our agreement explicitly states, you own your brand name, which we’re going to help you create. You own your website, which we’re going to help you create, you own your client relationships, you own your data, give us 30 days to help you transition so it minimizes the disruption to your practice and to your clients lives. And we will help you be successful wherever you choose to leave us. If you remove contractual clause from your relationship, you are virtually standing naked in the desert having to deliver on your promise of service.

Shannon: That for us was not only are we going to define service very with a very clear eye around the amplification of independence and enterprise value for advisors. We’re going to do it through this warrior mindset. We’re going to do it through the servant heart. We’re going to do it for getting 1% better every day. We’re going to take away the safety net and have to live that ethos.

Shannon: So that’s number one, be a tech company second was what I would call a non-negotiable out of the gate if you’re going to define what the future of this industry looks like. You have got to deliver a seamless fully integrated as friction free experience as you can. You’re living and breathing this every day, this is your area of expertise. It’s very, “easy”, to have all the custodial relationships to have all the FinTech solutions to be able to turn that all on. It is incredibly difficult to deliver it in a way to advisors that helps them to deepen that client relationship and maximize their entrepreneurial growth ambition. So for us being a technology company second means not only delivering a fully integrated tech stack that checks those boxes around client experience and an advisor practice growth, but it also means we’re going to help you build workflows. We’re going to help you with your marketing. We’re going to help you with all your desktop support needs. We’re going to deliver to you an ever evolving state of the art solution that is is designed with the advisor in mind like it can’t be a vanity project and it can’t just be returning this stuff on or here’s the best you know the best price we’ve negotiated.

It has to be a discrete, intentional experience. That is checking every single facet of the work, the important work that advisors do. Technology company second. Then the order was important because at the core, we are a platform for independent advisors. If you ask most firms, they’d say, Who are you RFG? We’re an RIA. That doesn’t mean anything, we’re a service company first. We’re a technology company second, what we do is third, it’s a platform delivered for independent advisors and those I wish for everyone that they could experience that that valley that very deep valley those long nights staring at the cold black ceiling, when you tear a company down and you rebuild it from the ground floor up because it gives you such clarity around what is your mission vision values.

Overcoming Integration Challenges

Craig: I like how you said you were helping advisors maximize their entrepreneurial growth ambitions. That’s perfect. That’s a I think that will definitely resonate with advisors.

Shannon: It is why we, the collective we have our industry are so energized, especially at this moment in time about what advisors can do, how they can serve clients and the greater good impact that we are having on this massive disruption that’s coming from this generational wealth transfer. One of the things I love and why I went from the institutional side of the business as a hedge fund manager and as an investment banker over to RFG and on the retail wealth management side is that this is a industry of entrepreneurs and RFG especially as we look towards the future and the services that we’re delivering and the bench strength and the team that we’re building. To serve advisors. We’re obsessed with that entrepreneurial ambition because that is where we’re going to be able to help the most people and we’re going to be able to define what it means to have a relationship with a financial advisor.

There’s no doubt that working with a financial advisor for a Gen X, Gen Y, even a Gen Z is going to look radically different than what it looked like for the baby boomers. We are at at our heart like we’re entrepreneurs. So when you get to identify with advisors as entrepreneur to entrepreneur, you have ambitions you have growth, you have ideas around innovation and disruption. You have service offerings, when you start to align yourselves as like equal partners on that entrepreneurial journey. It helps you to think differently as you’re building a platform of what you want to deliver.

Craig: RFG advisory delivers a turnkey integrated platform that provides advisors all the tools and resources they need to be the CEO of their practice. How does your platform deliver on this? What is included in that, and how’s it differentiated from other firms?

Shannon: What I would say is most important about that turn of phrase be the CEO of your practice, not the COO is time. So we’ve seen tons of data and Craig, I know you tap into this data all the time. That advisors despite all this, FinTech despite all of the all of the innovative change in our industry still spend about 80% of their time on non revenue generating activities. They still spend a disproportionate amount of their time on things that are not going to deepen their client relationships and are not going to translate into growth in their practice. We are on a mission to change that. The advisor has an innate superpower and that and that is their ability to connect with people.

They should be spending all of their time in deepening those relationships and growing their firms and the team member that surrounds them, their force multiplier force should be helping the advisor to do that. Say be the CEO of your practice, not the COO plug into the RFG platform. Let us be the experts in the room on technology. Let us be the experts in the room on marketing and branding strategies on operations on compliance on coaching and you get to sit in that seat and show me your calendar and I’ll show you your priorities. You get to spend your time where your priorities should be, which is doing what you do best and why a free advisor got into this business in the first place which is helping people.

Shannon: That is, you know what we do and what’s interesting about it is I feel like that the industry is very crowded, right? There are a lot of firms that are talking and using the same language that RFG is using around a platform turnkey solutions technology culture. All the rest of it, but show me how you’re innovating and each one of those and I’ll give you a couple examples.

Shannon: One of the biggest problems that we identified this is about three years ago, was around the ability to implement technological change. was being hamstrung by you had disparate desktop setup. You had any number of devices out there and different hardware configuration advisors and their team were burning time trying to fix their desktop printer or their emails, whatever. We realized that there was we were never going to be able to deliver at scale, a fully integrated, high functioning technology solution. You have to own the last mile. We did device standardization across the entire firm, moved everything into the cloud and built an in house MSP so an in house, service provider to handle all of your technology needs.

Shannon: What that allows us to do is our tech team is comprised of expert consultants that help advisors to design workflows to maximize the growth of their practice, and they’re supported by this IT team that’s worrying about the cyber risks that’s worrying about the hardware. If your computer breaks, you give us a ring, we have a hot spare on your doorstep in 24 hours, and you’re not missing a beat.

Shannon: It’s little things like that something that was even bigger in terms of how are you walking the walk of showing up at the platform is if you spent any time talking with advisors, you’re going to within five minutes start to hear what is interestingly been flagged in the most recent Schwab survey data as the number one pain point and that’s talent. For as long as Schwab has been doing their benchmarking survey, the number one problem for advisors was new clients. Now it’s talent. We all who are sitting on the frontlines of building these high performing teams feel that strain and that pressure to be able to attract the best and the brightest to partner alongside you to execute on your vision.

Shannon: We created RFG Assist. And what that is is basically a talent agency within RFG where we help advisors, we do all the interviewing we do the training, we do the career mapping, we do build intentional communities, we do all the coaching and then we leaseback that talent and fractional share allocations to the advisors. So they have this incredible force multiplying resort that is supporting them and you’re taking off of their plate. All of those things that advisors aren’t good at and burn a ton of their energy, which is HR issues, hiring training bonuses, health care benefits, and kind of the biggest conundrum they run into which is how do I design a career path for this individual who is immensely instrumental. So it’s taking this this model of delivering these table stakes services, technology operations, coaching, investment management, compliance and taking it to the next level through again that lens of service.

Craig: All that is awesome. I know a lot of it is built on some pretty robust technology. Can you talk a bit about the vendors in your tech stack in this turnkey platform they would start with the core platform and talk about why you selected them and what you like about them.

Shannon: I think we have best of breed of what’s out there. So Orion, Orion Risk, which used to be Hidden Levers. Salesforce MoneyGuidePro, eMoney, we built a custom marketing chassis called Pathfinder on top of FMG Suite, FP Alpha. On the investment side we’ve partnered with SMArtX with CAIS we have Pontera for 401k management. We’ve got fully digitized client paperwork processing tools. We built custom solutions with PreciseFP and Laserfiche. We’re on a mission to standardize down to one phone number for phone, fax and text with RingCentral. We’ve got a lot of tech embedded within our compliance team around AI tools for marketing compliance regulatory review 401K rollovers with safer with InvestorCOM.

Shannon: All of this is fully integrated. We have not made the step into building a data lake, data warehouse we could have probably podcast number three a spirited debate about the future of that and certainly see it as an exciting frontier. But because from the beginning we said we’re going to own a full integration of our tech stack and we’re going to we’re going to empower our tech team, with tech experts and consultants to help advisors know how to leverage the tools that are sitting on top of their desktop desktop for us we’ve been able to customize and maximize and build on top of this cutting edge technology, which I would say is leveraging the just tremendous amount of not only intellectual firepower, but private equity money that has come into the industry that is backing all of these, all of these firms.

Shannon: So that’s the core of our tech stack. What makes it differentiated is the white labeling that we’ve done on top of it and the consulting services. When an advisor joins us, for example, we’re proud to say that we’ve been nominated for the fourth year in a row by WealthManagement.com The first three years for top non custodial RIA Support Platform and this year for their new category of Top RIA and the the nomination this year is highlighting our advisor independence transition tools, and that is fully tech enabled.

We build custom SharePoint sites for advisors deliver all of their their their training and coaching their sales dynamic Salesforce reports post game day where they can track every step of the way where their client paperwork is. Taking this course this core tech stack that is driving the day to day management of their firm and their client relationships and extending it out into absolutely everything they do. It’s all seamlessly integrated. When you’re partnering with RFG and we’re building you a website and social media presence, and then we’re incorporating into it drip marketing campaigns for clients and for your your prospects all of that is living within this ecosystem.

Craig: That sounds comprehensive.

Shannon: It’s the opposite of the Chinese food menu, right? I mean, it’s the easiest and especially for me, I love to negotiate. The easiest thing in the world is to go negotiate the best deal and then put the options on the Chinese food menu and say Godspeed, go forth and prosper. But for us we are serving high growth advisors, our advisors skew young, our advisors are in the early 40s. We excel at serving advisors between 30 million and 500 million. So these are billion dollar $2 billion firms. They don’t have the bench strength to go hire a CTO to figure out all of this new technology they can’t begin to develop what we have created. So for us, serving these advisors who are growing quickly, who are young, who represent the future of the industry, they have prioritized how they want to spend their time and it is not worrying about the table stakes of what our platform can deliver.

Craig: What was the biggest hurdle you had you went through with all these applications and integrating it into your well I’m giving it away. What were the issues you had with integrating these different applications into one seamless experience?

Shannon: I mean, Craig, this is why your calendar is as jam packed as it is with all the consulting work that you do. Everything. Right integration is hard. Not only do you have to be a visionary for where are you going and how do you show up with these solutions in a way like Salesforce, talk to we could probably make 10 calls right now to people who’ve used Salesforce and every single one of them would tell you I hate it, it doesn’t work. Because if you’re not curating it to be able to deliver specifically to the needs of advisors and their clients, it’s a worthless piece of software sitting on your desktop. Integration to be able to have the confidence that our advisors can pull up, we like to call it the 90-second client review you bump into a client that grocery store, you can pop up in your SurfacePro on the hood of your car and run a client review and have confidence that your plan, that your data, that your client portal, that the experience is going to be accurate. That takes a tremendous amount of diligence and a smart team to be able to deliver that at scale.

Shannon: I would say you know at every step of the way, it’s hard. These are not part time jobs. One of the reasons why we created RFG Assist is that advisors have this expectation that they can look around the room and they have these team members who are smart and talented client relationship managers or operations team members or maybe even someone that they’ve tapped to be in charge of technology. Well they’re wearing multiple hats just like the advisor is it’s that I’m the COO, I’m chief bottle washer and I’m closing all the business and everything in between.

Shannon: We’re at a place now where the complexity of our industry is going to force advisors, especially those that we’re serving 30 million to 500 million. You can’t survive in that world without having a tremendous team behind you. That our experts in each one of these fields, compliance ops, tech branding, marketing, investment management. I think that, you know, this is one of the greatest disservices in a way that the proliferation of FinTech has done for advisors is there chasing bright shiny objects. In a demo, everything looks easy. It looks easy to integrate to API, the data is just going to flow seamlessly. The reality of it is these are very complex systems to run in a way that actually translates into tangible result, which is, is my business growing. Are my clients happy? Am I retaining my clients? Would they give me a net promoter score of nine or 10? Do I actually have a business that has any value like there’s a big difference between I have a practice and I have a firm? And if you want to build enterprise value and you want to serve multiple generations and you want to actually have a business a firm, then you better get clear eyed on how you’re going to allocate your resources and it can’t be chasing every last whim in the technology world.

Craig: You took the words right out of my mouth Shannon, thank you for that plug on integrations, I much appreciate it and you know Ezra Group, it’s all about integrations these days. That’s one of our core focuses and our research and our service delivery. But now we’ve come to the end of this episode, and I’m happy that we worked out episodes two and number three for next time. Shannon, please tell us where people can learn more about RFG Advisory.

Shannon: RFGadvisory.com, I’m on all the socials LinkedIn is probably my favorite Shannon Spotswood.

Craig: Thanks so much for being here. Sure. Talk to you soon.

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ABOUT ME

The Wealth Tech Today blog is published by Craig Iskowitz, founder and CEO of Ezra Group, a boutique consulting firm that caters to banks, broker-dealers, RIA’s, asset managers and the leading vendors in the surrounding #fintech space. He can be reached at craig@ezragroupllc.com

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