Ric Edelman does things his wayóand he isnít apologizing for that.

Ric Edelman is certain that mutual fund C shares are less expensive for most clients than any asset-based fees the profession can concoct. He also believes the cognoscenti of the planning profession, with their discriminating wealthy client targets and $1 million investment minimums, are downright insulting.

While consultants, successful planners and even contributors to this magazine have steadily proclaimed the benefits of fee-only planning and targeted client selection, Edelman, 44, a primarily commission-based advisor, shrugs off these ideas as endemic of the way most planners miss the point. Instead, he takes all comers, many brought to his door by the weekly radio and TV shows he hosts. In 14 years, he's built a firm of 6,000 clients and a $1.7 billion book of business. In fact, a recent survey ranked Edelman Financial Services the fifth-largest independent planning firm in the country. Add in his mortgage and insurance affiliates and a trust (patent pending) he markets through a hand-picked national network of attorneys, and you begin to get a glimpse of Edelman's business. But just a glimpse.

There's more to the story of Ric Edelman. Once an eager but struggling reporter, Edelman has transformed his beliefs about what planning and service mean into a thriving commission-based firm that employs 85 people, 18 of them planners. This is a guy who has created his own mini-media empire and marketing machine that bring in as many as 50 clients a month.

In fact, it was Edelman's days as a journalist covering the collapse of the limited partnership industry that gave him the idea of entering the then-budding industry of planning in the early 1980s. "I had to interview general partners of sponsorships. These people were getting rich while investors were losing their shirts. I told my wife Jean, 'Can you imagine what we'd make if we did things the right way for clients?'" Edelman says. "So we did."

He cut his teeth working for another shop for a few years before hanging out his own shingle in 1987. His first foray into marketing? He called on elementary school PTAs and offered to do college planning. "I had to explain what a mutual fund was," Edelman says. "I must have talked to every PTA in the Washington, D.C., area."

His real break came when he started his radio show two years later. He still hosts the show on WMAL AM 60 today, which drives hundreds, if not thousands, of potential clients to his door. "I don't think you can get into radio today the way I did and be a paid host. Most planners couldn't host a show anyway," Edelman opines, with characteristic humility.

That said, Edelman's one-man media empire is fairly vast. He's written five books with more than one million in sales, three of them New York Times bestsellers. He has a weekly TV show, a paid newsletter and numerous "work your way to wealth" video and cassette packages he markets from his Web site, www.ricedelman.com. Edelman also reaches more than one million seniors each month with his syndicated column in AARP's Modern Maturity. Edelman Japan, devoted to translating his materials in the Far East, is about to go live. He's been on Oprah a handful of times as the featured financial guru, which also has helped his reputation.

Most established practitioners would shy away from the big-net approach to marketing and be hard-pressed to handle the barrage of phone calls Edelman's radio and TV shows generate, but that's been business as usual at Edelman's firm for more than a decade. The company's 85 employees (up from just five people 12 years ago) are set to take on 50 new clients a month in 2003, predicts Edelman President Ed Moore, whose been with the firm 12 years.

As a result of Edelman's high-level media presence, nearly 6,000 clients and the tremendous stream of referrals they generate, his firm's 18 planners make upward of $100,000 a year without having to bring in any new clients. "Our planners do no administrative work, no marketing or solicitation. They're devoting 100% of their time to direct client services," says Edelman.

The firm keeps clients by providing fairly conservative mutual fund portfolios that steer clear of fads, even long-running ones like the technology bubble. "We see more new clients a week than most smaller firms see all year," adds Edelman, with the matter-of-fact bravado of someone who will take in roughly $4.8 million in planning fees this year alone, based on the $800 he charges each of his 6,000 clients annually for a financial plan. They pay an additional $400 in the second year and beyond for a total of $1,200 annually (a little stiff for middle-class clients also paying commissions), bringing annual fee revenues alone to approximately $7.2 million.

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