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RIA Intel’s Best Stories of 2020 — Scoops and Features That Captivated

In a heartbreaking and exhausting year, these articles resonated.

Last December, while highlighting our favorite stories of the year, we wrote “Imagine what 12 full months will deliver next year? Our expectations are high. And we hope yours are, too.”

In 2020, RIA Intel delivered scoops, exclusive interviews, and deeply reported features that readers have come to expect. But no one imagined the Covid-19 pandemic and its consequences.

The novel coronavirus has sown a silent trail of destruction, counted in lives lost and dollars deferred. It also kicked the chair from under the wealth management industry’s status quo, providing opportunity for the swift and nimble to capitalize. Moreover, the overall health of the industry has arguably never been stronger, despite intense upheaval and concerns about who will become the wealth management leaders of tomorrow.

RIA Intel marked its one-year anniversary in June, continuing its mandate of covering all facets of wealth management, practice management, and investing, while also interviewing the industry’s brightest minds to learn what makes them tick. In August, I discussed RIA Intel’s first year on the Investors First Podcast, a service of CFA Society Orlando.

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Day in, day out (and a great many nights, too!) Michael Thrasher reported on the most topical issues and urgent challenges facing wealth managers. Chronicling the industry’s ups and downs in an upside-down year, his daily coverage and feature stories were must-reads. His views were also sought out in a widely watched online panel discussion that focused on what journalists are looking for when considering story ideas.

RIA Intel’s best stories engaged readers, revealed what top wealth managers are doing, and why. These articles alerted readers to powerful forces affecting the industry, and explained how advisors can thrive in an era defined by constant disruption.

The stock market’s March rout suggested that more Ponzi schemes might be revealed. That month, during the pandemic’s early innings, RIA Intel described what RIAs needed to successfully conduct business remotely. Fast forward several months and the majority adapted well (yet most plan to return to the office anyway).

RIA Intel broke the news that Motif, a portfolio management fintech firm, suddenly closed. Less surprisingly, art galleries were closing, too, though the digital art market has been hot.

George Floyd’s death and the reinvigorated Black Lives Matter movement forced a reckoning for wealth managers, as advisors called on industry organizations to speak out against racism after initially being silent. Here is how they responded.

RIA Intel examined how advisors can meaningfully cater to minority investors and how Black culture influences financial planning and decision making.

Thirty-nine years into its storied history, Dimensional Fund Advisors turned heads when the $529 billion asset manager launched two ETFs, with plans for more, amid billions in outflows.

A flurry of activity struck a “critical, little-known corner of finance” known as TAMPs (turnkey asset management platforms). “Every single day I'm talking to multiple buyers in the market and TAMPs. And it’s crazy. There's so much going on that it’s hard to even know where to start,” said Mark Wunderli, managing director at Echelon Partners.

Readers flocked to RIA Intel’s expansive Big Question interviews. ‘Dean of Valuation’ Aswath Damodaran recommended large-cap tech names while Wharton professor Jeremy Siegel argued for value stocks.

In a wide-ranging interview with Mercer Advisors’ Dave Welling, the head of the $21 billion firm discussed competitors, social justice, and the company’s future. He also recounted how he was nearly was one of Amazon’s first employees. 

Dylan Kremer, a director of Investment Strategy at Cresset, is clearly having a ball, spending 40 hours per week juggling investments for his firm and 40 hours training NBA players.

Laura LaTourette told her bitter-sweet (mostly sweet) story about what it was like to leave Atlanta, where she had been following a conventional path, and relocate in rural Georgia as an LGBTQ+ advisor. “I had friends of mine saying, ‘You're going to do what? You're moving to north Georgia as an out lesbian?’”

Adrienne Penta, who founded Brown Brothers Harriman’s Center for Women and Wealth, discussed its creation and what the organization is trying to accomplish today. “I believe that women creating wealth is the most underserved market.”

Max Weldon Greer, Jr. passed away late last year but left “a legacy of uncommon kindness” that resonates today. “He often said he got more joy in seeing our clients and employees/partners be successful than any personal achievement he had,” said Tom Meier, managing director of investment management at Financial Advisory Service.

Focus Financial Partners recently created its own RIA named Connectus Wealth Advisers that competes with Dynasty Financial Partners and Hightower.

And in this election year, advisors’ political views increasingly mattered to clients. In fact, 44% said they would vote with their feet and switch financial professionals if their political views did not align. 

December is normally one of Broadway's busiest months, but not this year. Shows have been suspended until next summer. However, RIA Intel found that producers, the industry's financiers, remain bullish on Broadway's future and are taking calls from investors.

As we wrap up this seemingly never-ending year, we genuinely thank you for your continued support, welcome your feedback, and wish you the best in the new one.

Happy Holidays!

Greg Bartalos (@gregorianchance) is editor of New York City-based RIA Intel.

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