At the end of 2008, a man called in to the radio show The Truth About Money to complain to the host that his financial advisor had lost about 24% of his portfolio. He was upset and wondered whether he should fire the advisor. The host, independent financial planner Ric Edelman, told the caller he should be doing jumping jacks if his advisor lost only 24% at a time when the S&P 500 was down 40%. It was a wise response because, as it turns out, the caller's advisor was Edelman himself.
Edelman, 54, dodged a bullet, but it's an example of the kind of potshots people like to take at him. He's one of those guys people love to disparage, largely because of his amazing success and endless capacity for self-promotion. With a radio show, six books, a column, conferences and nearly half a dozen appearances on Oprah, he's everywhere. His books (The Truth About Money; Ordinary People, Extraordinary Wealth; and his latest, The Lies About Money) and his radio program, "The Ric Edelman Show," which allows people to call in for advice, have made him into a personal finance guru rivaling Suze Orman, offering practical advice on how to navigate the sometimes byzantine world of finance. As one longtime industry observer put it, he was Suze Orman before there was a Suze Orman.
But even Edelman's detractors have to admit he is one of the most successful financial advisors, ever. He turned the concept of the independent financial advisor on its head, showing that just because you forgo working for a brokerage firm and go out on your own it doesn't mean you'll always be alone. His advisory firm, Edelman Financial Services LLC, employs 502 people in 42 offices in 13 states. With clients in all 50 states, the firm gradually plans to grow its national network.
EFS, which largely serves mass affluent people with $1 million to $2 million in net worth, manages about $7.3 billion for 16,200 clients. It added more than 2,000 new clients last year and brings in about 200 new clients a month.
Barron's ranked Edelman the No. 1 independent financial advisor in the nation for 2009 and 2010, and he was No. 2 for 2011, edged out by Los Angeles-based Steve Lockshin, who scored 100 while Edelman scored 99.99 (the scores are based on an advisor's assets under management, the revenue the firm produces, its regulatory record, the quality of its practice and the advisor's philanthropic work).
"Ric Edelman is one of the most successful financial advisors as a businessman," says Charles "Chip" Roame, managing partner at Tiburon Strategic Partners, a consulting firm specializing in the financial services industry.
Roame attributes it to Edelman's personality, his energy, and his marketing abilities. "Many financial advisors, especially independent advisors, are introverts and customer-service-minded individuals. Ric has a big personality, has energy and is strong at marketing," Roame says.
Edelman doesn't like being compared to people like Suze Orman. Not only does she serve different clients-hers, he says, are largely in debt while his are wealthy enough to be concerned about college and retirement savings-but she's not a financial advisor.
"Jean Chatzky and the Dolans. Dave Ramsey and David Bach. The list goes on and on of people who are very well known for their books and radio or TV shows and seminars, but the difference between all of them and me is that I'm the only one who is an actual practicing financial advisor," Edelman says. "There's a lot of advice that sounds good in a book but doesn't work in the real world. And you can only know that by having long-term relationships with clients."
He's not just an advisor. He rewrote the playbook for independent advisors seeking to create a business with real value. When he sold half his firm in 2005 for more than $100 million to Sanders Morris Harris Group, the Houston-based financial services firm founded by George Ball (onetime boss of both Prudential-Bache and E.F. Hutton)-Edelman showed one could build a firm of independent advisors that would have equity beyond the fees it earned. Up to that point, that model was only associated with broker-dealers and a handful of large RIAs specializing in asset management.