Dan Wheeler, founder of Dimensional Fund Advisors’ financial advisor service group, has died.
Considered a visionary and unsung hero in finance, Wheeler was at the forefront of the Independent RIA movement and helped convince not only Dimensional but asset management in general of the value that RIAs can bring.
“In a very real way, Dan changed not just the narrative in our business but in a lot of ways changed the world for millions of investors. That is not an overstatement. That is Dan’s impact,” Bryce Skaff, Wheeler’s long-time friend, mentee, and current co-head of the global client group at Dimensional, told RIA Intel.
Prior to joining Dimensional, Wheeler was working as a fee-only independent advisor, paid directly by clients rather than through commissions earned by recommending an employer’s product, a rare model at the time. Wheeler was the first advisor to work with Dimensional Fund Advisors, which at the time was focused only on institutional investors and in 1989 was instrumental in the founding of the firm’s financial advisor services group.
“Dan was convinced that there were other financial advisors who would share his enthusiasm for marrying independent and conflict-free financial advice with cost-effective investment strategies grounded in a scientific approach. He just didn’t know who they were, and they didn’t know about Dimensional,” said Dave Butler, co-CEO of Dimensional and Wheeler’s fourth employee, in a statement. Butler said Wheeler launched “a movement that revolutionized financial advice.”
Today, financial advisors make up about two-thirds of Dimensional $584 billion in assets. Many asset managers have since followed Dimensional, creating funds that cater to advisors.
“He knew that brokerage firms were destructive to investors and hurting investors and that somebody had to stand up for the investor,” said Mark Matson, founder and CEO of RIA Matson Money and a friend of Wheeler’s. “I’m definitely the most proud that he’s always stood for the investor.” Matson said Wheeler died from prostate cancer.
Matson said he invited Wheeler to sit on the firm’s advisory board shortly after it was founded in 1991.
Although Wheeler left Dimensional in 2011, he remained involved in the industry, sitting on the board of advisors for Vert Asset Management. Wheeler also founded the blog Wheeler Writes.
“Dan’s impact on the advisory business is hard to overstate. We think of fee-based advice and low-cost investment products as the norm now but in the early ‘90s that was almost non-existent. He literally convinced thousands of advisors to move away from commissions and from high-cost funds. Few thought it was possible to change the industry. Dan believed it so much he made others believe it too,” CEO & co-founder of Vert Asset Management Sam Adams wrote in an email to RIA Intel.