Barron’s recently released their inaugural ranking of Top RIA Firms, an exclusive category (listed as “Graduates”) recognizing some of the most visionary advisors who have evolved beyond the annual ranks of the Top 100. Carson Group is excited to announce it was one of only 30 firms to be selected for this honor, ranking in at #21.

This ranking is based on assets under management, retention and factors that contribute to providing broad and consistent service to clients. Carson Group has shown meaningful growth in each spectrum. In fact, the firm was recently named one of the fastest growing private companies in America by Inc. 5000. A testament to the firm’s commitment to growth and innovation.

Founder and CEO, Ron Carson, is not shy to Barron’s awards, most notably being named to their Inaugural Hall of Fame. He’s the only advisor in the Top 30 RIA Firms celebrating 10 years on the list, the longest tenure of any advisor. Because of holding such a distinct position on the Barron’s list, Ron was featured and had the opportunity to explain why Carson Group has evolved into a national brand. Read his profile below:

By Steve Garmhausen

Carson Group
Headquarters: Omaha, Neb.
Offices: 52
Clients: 10,502
2017 Top RIA Firm Rank: 21

You wouldn’t think that an advisory firm would openly offer clients the option of switching to a lower-fee service model. And you sure wouldn’t think they would make the process easy. But that’s exactly what Carson Group plans to do starting next year.

“It’s the ultimate win for the client,” says CEO Ron Carson. “People don’t want to feel trapped.”

Like Carson Group, the best independent firms get to the top by innovating, and they continue once they’re there. That Carson’s firm is an innovator comes as no surprise to those who know him.

In junior high school, Carson ran a scheme in which he imported fireworks from China, brought them to school, and sold them to other kids. “If my locker had exploded, it would have blown up half the room it was next to,” he says.

While wealth management is a less explosive business, Carson gives his team a high degree of autonomy and direct stakes in the company’s success. Nearly 60% of the team members participate in equity compensation plans. “We all feel like we’re owners in the business,” says Teri Shepherd, Carson’s chief financial officer and chief operating officer.

Carson Group also has a sister company in which 11 executive business coaches work with over 5,000 advisors at more than 1,200 firms. The feedback from these coaches helps Carson stay on the edge of innovation. “It’s a huge advantage to have such real-time intelligence coming in daily,” he says.

Carson Group’s pivotal moment came in 1994, when its founder attended an informational meeting about an innovation known as fee-based accounts. “I came out of that meeting going, ‘This is going to be huge,’ ” he recalls.

Carson would end up splitting from his business partner and going all-in on the fee-based approach, which enables a more holistic wealth-management approach. The move ended up benefiting clients and the business alike. “We are able to tell the client that there are no hidden fees, no backdoor payments, nobody making anything off them that they’re not aware of,” says Carson. “And there’s no conflict of interest in the way we’re delivering advice.”

Such thinking is behind the current plan to let clients easily change service tiers. By empowering clients, the firm is also helping to ensure that they don’t leave Carson altogether.

“Today, if a traditional client is not happy with what they’re getting for what they’re paying, they need to have an uncomfortable conversation about their fee, or leave the firm,” says Carson. “By the end of 2018, they’ll be able to move up or down the value chain without friction.”

Using an online tool, clients will move to or from a traditional, full-service relationship with a higher fee; a cheaper “bionic” relationship involving a robo-advisor and less human contact; and a pure digital platform. They’ll also be able to choose a percentage-of-assets fee or a retainer fee for each service tier.

On the investment front, Carson believes that patience and planning trump stock-picking. “Investor behavior, and not what you own, is going to drive your success,” he says. “That’s why the planning and service model is critical.”

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