Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast: Growing a Client-Centric RIA with a Culture of Service, Tenacity, and Trust

As a young advisor just getting started, Daren recalls spending the first part of his career working for a broker-dealer, growing his book of business. “I started with a large national firm, and built my business knocking on doors. I went through so many business cards, and before long I realized I’d knocked on at least 9,000 doors and burned through many pairs of shoes. I built my client base by getting out there and connecting with people.” Daren knew early-on that he would prefer to work as an independent advisor someday. In a profession where you’re dealing with extremely sensitive and personal details of client lives, participating in a culture driven by achieving sales targets felt misplaced to him.

“I came out of the broker-dealer world with a passion for serving clients and putting their best interest first. Lots of lip service is given in the BD world to ‘client -centered service,’ yet at the end of the day brokers serve brokers and the firms they work for. I was seeking a different feel, and I wanted an environment where individual advisors were empowered by ‘true’ independence to always do what’s best for clients.”

After helping build a billion dollar RIA, Daren’s first attempt at creating an independent planning firm, he learned that competing priorities even within an independent firm can prevail, and this led Daren to the second iteration and the founding of Sonoma Wealth Advisors. His goal was to develop a firm to serve clients’ best interest through independence, and to serve other advisors who wished to do the same. Sonoma was created with an eye for helping advisors maintain flexibility and independence, while also enabling them to be a part of a larger community.

“In today’s market, small business owner advisors, particularly the 60AUM-150AUM range, are underserved. Advisors in this market segment struggle with service models, custodians, and technology vendors. They’re incredibly important but they’re not the big marquee firms to most massive vendors or custodians, so they don’t get the support they need, and are saddled with high costs for operating and navigating regulatory requirements. This is exactly why Sonoma Wealth Advisors exists, for advisors that want to join a like-minded group and take advantage of economies of scale, yet may want to maintain independence in managing their clients.”

Advisors at Sonoma are empowered to run their brand the way they want to, and each advisor can focus on having their own type of ideal client. Daren said “As advisors, we do our best work when we serve the clients that we love and love us and that fit naturally with our expertise and style. Maximum flexibility at Sonoma allows for this. My goal throughout this journey has been to empower advisors to work with their ideal client, and remove the ‘one-size-fits-all approach,’ so the advisor can do their best work.” Sonoma affords its advisors flexibility in how they approach targeting and serving their clients, while offering them the business support, coaching in best practices, and quality of technology they need to be successful.
When asked how Daren has been able to forge such a focused, successful business model, Daren doesn’t hesitate to answer, “Our culture is what makes us truly unique. We’re a group of advisors that really want to take care of the clients and really care about our clients. Our advisors know their northstar, and they are motivated by that.” The advisors at Sonoma are truly passionate about taking care of their clients, and have a deep sense of purpose and meaning through the work they do. As a foundation to their culture the firm champions transparency and open communication. Daren recognizes “people perform best when they feel empowered to help the clients and make decisions with the clients, so Sonoma’s flexibility and open communication is how we support our advisors to do their best work. No corporate bureaucracy, just focused, clear communication and a culture of empowerment to do what’s best for the client.”
Sonoma regularly adds new advisors to their growing team, including those coming from larger wirehouse backgrounds. Daren added “We are very familiar with the process of leaving a broker-dealer.” Daren has assisted in many successful advisor breakaways and is always seeking advisors that want to join a thriving, passionate group that’s intelligently leveraging economies of scale to offer an exceptional client experience. As Daren puts it, “At Sonoma, our advisors come together and leverage the power of an impactful group, higher levels of client service, and access to cutting-edge technology. And they get to do all this while remaining empowered to serve their ideal clients and take total ownership over their personal advisor brand. Sonoma’s culture is all about advisors who are deeply passionate about taking care of their clients.”