Building BAM Advisor Services: Behind the Vision

I come from a CPA background, having spent 28 years with a company that at one time was the largest one-office accounting firm outside of New York City. The firm is now known as RubinBrown, but originally was called Rubin, Brown Gornstein & Co. Conveniently, it was located right here in my hometown, St. Louis.

In 1966, I became the 11th person in that organization. When I retired from the firm at age 50 (having missed my initial objective of retiring at 30, and then my revised goal of retiring at 40) we had grown into a company of 200. In my book, that’s pretty spectacular growth. And as the partner in charge of practice development, I am proud to take more than a little credit for having helped a modest little CPA firm become highly respected and well-known. As rewarding as this was, and considering all of my many other roles at the firm, the one I most enjoyed was being partner-in-charge of the personal financial consulting group.

In that capacity, I took a special interest in, and thus became involved with, the AICPA’s Personal Financial Planning Executive Committee. From this national perspective, I saw a new trend emerging in the late1980s and early 1990s. Forward-thinking CPAs were beginning to take the next step in the financial planning process and add investment management services to their firms. In fact, it was this very committee that ultimately proved so providential in bringing the founders of BAM Advisor Services together.

Bert Schweizer, another St. Louis-area CPA/PFS, also saw this trend starting to impact the accounting world. Unfortunately, neither of our firms were ready to “take the plunge.” But two of our colleagues, both of whom were good friends and successful businessmen, Paul Forman and Steve Funk, shared our vision. The four of us formed Buckingham Asset Management in 1994.

Three years into our new Buckingham venture, we realized there were a lot of CPAs still talking about adding investment management to their practices, but not ready to do anything about it yet. And then a banker friend, who had heard our Buckingham story, approached us and told us we were “thinking too small.” This banker friend believed there was a national market, one that included banks and CPA firms across the country, for the same client-focused and evidence-based financial services we were offering in St. Louis. He suggested we publicly introduce our company to the leaders in these financial arenas.

The banking idea didn’t seem to catch hold, but we reached out to discuss the CPA idea with Irv Rothenberg. Irv, as many of our clients and colleagues know, is a highly honored and nationally recognized CPA in California. I had grown to know him well through our involvement together on the AICPA Personal Financial Planning Executive Committee. Irv and I agreed that, between the two of us, we had enough significant national CPA contacts to pursue a new dream.

We formed a second company that provided a complete set of back-office services for other Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) firms. We initially focused on those RIAs that were, or would be, associated with CPA firms. BAM first introduced itself in New York in June 1997 at the AICPA Investment Conference. We set up our first booth, with Irv and me as our primary spokespeople. We told everyone who stopped by: “If any of you CPAs want to get into this business and invest for your clients the way Buckingham does, you can use our back office in St. Louis. No reason for you to re-invent the wheel.”

IRV_Buck_Conference

Irv Rothenberg is managing an early BAM booth at an AICPA Personal Financial Planning Conference. The banner displays BAM’s earliest formal name, Buckingham Asset Management USA, LLC. At the time, the organization was called BAM USA. We later officially changed the name of our second company to BAM Advisor Services.

By 1998, with our first few BAM clients now on board, we were able to add Wendy Cook to upgrade our communications effort and Lynda Clark, someone I had worked with for many years back in my CPA days, to become our first BAM client service specialist. And then, amazingly, by the end of 1998 we had added two highly recognized national CPA associations who considered us “preferred providers” for their independent accounting firm members. BAM Advisor Services was off and running.

We saw early on — and we still see today — that this is a cottage industry. As a result, there are a great many little (and not so little) RIA firms that, despite the differing personalities among their advisors and their various approaches to financial planning for their clients, all have a similar need for streamlined operational support and professional development opportunities. They all have their own reporting software, put out their own quarterly statements, create their own form of promotion, and buy their own paper. And the list only continues. What an astounding waste of resources. We couldn’t help but recognize all the opportunities for leverage. And so have a lot of these firms.

Today, firms from all over the country come to partner with and learn from us. We’ve expanded from just a handful of employees to an organization of more than 200 dedicated individuals serving advisors all over the country. Our thought leadership has written more than 20 books on our approach to investment and wealth management. Subject matter experts within the organization abound. Large investments in technology and other business resources have been made to the benefit of all.

And so far, so good! The firms that partner with BAM Advisor Services are now known as the BAM ALLIANCE, an active community of like-minded wealth advisors who share the very same principles Buckingham was founded upon. That by doing what’s in the best interest of your clients, you can help put them on a path to achieve their most important goals. As of Sept. 30, the BAM ALLIANCE had grown to about $25 billion of combined client assets.

Each year, additional RIA firms who share in our investment philosophy select BAM Advisor Services as their partner to provide operational, strategic planning and client development services. At last check, as of November 2014, we represent 148 member firms (mostly still CPA-related) in 47 states. And even more importantly, more than 17,000 families are receiving sound investment and wealth management advice. I couldn’t be more proud.

Oh, and I still like that bank idea.

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The opinions expressed by featured authors are their own and may not accurately reflect those of the BAM ALLIANCE. This article is for general information only and is not intended to serve as specific financial, accounting or tax advice.

© 2014, The BAM ALLIANCE

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