Niches are beautiful

As markets change and the financial advisory industry demands new services, advisor teams that have the right skills and are paying attention can position themselves as the next go-to practice. “There's this push for specialization in different areas of your practice,” says Ryan Svatora, whose UBS practice catering to gay clients has seen growth as the gay marriage debate has intensified in recent years. (See profile, page 36.) “More and more firms are beginning to roll out niche marketing services, not only to the LGBT community but to other niche markets as well.”

Historically, advisory teams looked for FAs whose skill sets complemented gaps in their own — for example, seeking to add a financial planner or someone who knows his way around a 401(k) plan. But emerging demands are creating fresh opportunities. “I think we have a broad understanding in the industry that client needs are becoming more specialized and complex, so advisors are reaching out to specialists in a bunch of different subjects to help grow their businesses,” says David Lessing, chief operating officer for wealth management in the U.S. at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney.

Thomas Van Dyck sees it in his socially responsible investing practice in San Francisco, where freshly-minted young millionaires in the social media industry are looking for advisors whose investing philosophies are congruent with their own. (See profile, page 35.) Kathy Leonard, who also operates an SRI-focused practice in Boulder, Colo. with about $250 million in AUM, warns advisors that such fields are not to be entered lightly. “The clients who are coming to this are very informed, and they will know if you really know your stuff and you're committed,” she says.

Jonathan Henschen, president of recruiting firm Henschen & Associates in St. Croix, Minn., envisions some advisors providing social media services that meet the needs of small businesses owned by their clients. “As they want to build loyalty, they'll go outside the box and help in other areas,” Henschen says. “Who thought Merrill Lynch would help the ultra-wealthy in leasing jets?”

Finding the expertise to reach out to select clientele is getting a little easier, says recruiter Danny Sarch of Leitner Sarch Consultants Ltd. in White Plains, N.Y. Wall Street layoffs mean talent is easier to find. “The trick is how you pay for it, because you're dealing with firms and corporations that are more reluctant than ever to spend on things that do not directly generate revenue,” he says. “It's the very forward-looking team that says, ‘Let's take a piece out of our pocket in order to bring on this person with this expertise, because it will end up being accretive down the road.’”

In the four advisor team profiles that follow, check out how these pros have explored certain market niches — certified public accounting, faith-based investing, socially responsible investing, and LGBT — and made it work for them.