How CEG Worldwide helped wealth management evolve from buzzword to industry discipline.

    When John Bowen conceived of CEG Worldwide in 2000, he envisioned a consulting company whose primary clients were large investment companies and brokerages and whose secondary clients were the advisors themselves.

When Joe Kennedy moved to New York in the early 1920s, he observed that if you want to make money, go where the money is. So it was that Bowen looked to the deep-pocketed financial services giants because that's where the money was. But a funny thing happened on the road to building a viable enterprise.

There was a huge shift in the balance of power in the financial services business, and many independent financial advisors thrived during the 2000-2002 bear market, while the majority of so-called big boys floundered. So by 2004, CEG had established itself as a major consulting business, but the folks who Bowen thought would be his secondary clients had become his primary clients. CEG suddenly had dozens of successful advisor clients who paid annual fees of just under $20,000 a year for four quarterly group meetings.

In fact, the research, analysis and advisory coaching firm founded by financial entrepreneur Bowen is increasingly successful at providing financial advisors with services that they did not know existed, in order to help them radically reshape their businesses with a focus on the cutting edge of financial "best practices," now increasingly known as "wealth management." The nascent movement is reshaping the financial industry as profoundly as financial planning did in the 1970s and 1980s.

CEG and its founder are already well known to financial planning insiders-though not, perhaps, to the larger industry pool of several hundred thousand brokers. Chances are, over the next few years many of these folks will come to know about firms like CEG as technology increasingly helps asset gathering evolve from art to science.

CEG's story is important, because the firm has been retained to build out coaching programs for potentially thousands of brokers among some of Wall Street's largest firms.

Independent advisors who have worked with CEG testify to the power of its programs. "Two important pioneers in the financial industry in the early 21st century are John Bowen and Russ Prince," says Montana-based registered investment advisor Mark Thomas, a CEG client. "I get a kick out of all the mainstream press covering the so-called biggest firms and industry leaders when these two, who happen to be the people scientifically building the next generation of the investment business, are rarely mentioned."

Says another CEG client, Florida-based H. Gordon Owens Jr., "CEG demands that you focus intensively on the business you want to build, not the business you have. And unlike other consultancies, they back up their perspectives with original research. To my knowledge, until CEG, no one was ever committed to doing large-scale empirical surveys among financial advisors and then disseminating the research in simple white papers that you could understand and apply."

Both Owens and Thomas say that their businesses have become far more focused on particular and profitable niches under CEG's tutelage. They say that they are far more disciplined in how they generate referrals and add clients to their rosters. They also say that their assets have nearly doubled in just a few years' time-even though, to begin with, they radically pared their client bases. The result: a business profile that resembles what CEG and its clients increasingly refer to as wealth management.

It's something that Bowen may be reconfiguring in a new way, at least for the broader marketplace downstream. Thomas and Owens say they want to be the first point of contact for any financially oriented decisions their clients make, up to and including second homes, car purchases, etc. The result is an intimate bond between their businesses and a small pool of wealthy, or very wealthy, families, the goals of which they help shape, the fulfillment of which they facilitate and help direct.