While some commission-based planners are reporting complaints from clients who think they'd get a fairer shake from a fee-only planner, Edelman says he has heard nary a reproach about the C shares he uses with most clients. "But if I did, instead of defending C shares, I'd ask them to defend fees. I think the 75 basis points and $1,200 planning fee we charge is far less expensive than most," says Edelman. He uses A shares for those clients with the assets to benefit from breakpoints. While he and staff members declined to discuss revenues or profits, 0.75% of $1.7 billion is a fairly heady number to contemplate.

The firm uses an investment committee to choose mutual funds for client portfolios, which Edelman says are fairly conservative. Not surprisingly, Edelman's not hearing complaints from his broker-dealer Royal Alliance either, where he's won numerous production awards.

Despite the common wisdom holding that advisors should target a specific market or clientele, he's not altering his "take-all-comers" approach. "I've been to FPA seminars that tell planners to work with only the wealthy. I think that's incredibly misguided and rude, like a doctor telling a patient they're too sick to treat," Edelman says. "We'll work with anyone who'll listen to us and do what we ask."

Even so, he adds, his firm has some of the wealthiest clients in the Washington area. They also have several hundred clients who don't have substantial assets. "They may be sending in just $50 a month. But if we can help them, we will. They often know someone who has a good deal more," adds Edelman, who says that most of his clients come from referrals, though firm employees are not permitted to ask for them.

The typical client is about 60 years old, has investable assets of $300,000 to $500,000, a net worth of around $1 million and is approaching or in retirement, says Moore.

Why build such a large firm? Many planners would shudder at the thought of managing 85 people. But Edelman says it's merely a result of meeting client needs. "We'll grow or shrink the firm on that basis." Still, he adds, he likes the feel of having 85 folks working on client needs. "Having 50 or 60 people was a little awkward in the sense that it was hard to justify hiring a human resources manager or full-time IT people."

The firm now has a human resources director and four full-time IT staff. Hard work really does have its rewards. Edelman and his wife recently donated $1 million to their alma mater, Rowan University, to help build a planetarium in the school's new science building. Edelman also gets high marks from the officials of charities with whom he works. "Ric has the expertise and enthusiasm we need to educate our youth," says Dara Duguay, executive director of the Jump$tart Coalition, an umbrella organization that promotes personal finance education. Edelman is a member and an emcee of its annual fundraiser.

Then there's the almost religious adoration of some clients. Bill Erback, 66, a former Army chaplain, had worked with Edelman for only two years when he decided to finance the young planner when he launched his business in 1987. "It was like a movie. We were in the post office parking lot. I think I believed in him more than he did," says Erback, who today finds himself a benefactor of Edelman's largesse as he and his wife renovate a limestone mill on their Civil War era property in Virginia.

Edelman may not adhere to evolving rules in the advisory world, but it hasn't hurt his profitability. "People can argue that my philosophy is flawed, but they can't deny the success of my firm," Edelman says.

ëI Quit,í Says Edelman

Late last year Ric Edelman announced in a press release he was quitting the Financial Planning Association, marking the end of his long courtship of the group. Many advisors join and leave various associations during their careers, but few issue press releases to announce it. The final break, says Edelman, came as a result of the FPA boardís decision to finalize its plan to establish two membershipsóthe financial planner membership exclusively for planners who have CFP certification and a general membership for those who donít. Only members with CFPs will be given media and client referrals. Edelman, who nominated himself three times for an FPA board seat he was never chosen for, doesnít have a CFP. ìItís a trivial and divisive distinction to make. They will not give me the respect that I feel that Iíve earned throughout my career,î he says of the FPA. ìWhy should I be considered a second-class citizen? And why should I have to spend thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours to get a designation that doesnít benefit my clients or my firm?î asks the planner, who says 14 of his 18 planners have the designation. Outgoing FPA President and current Chairman Bob Barry, who championed the FPAís move to create the CFP membership, says creating one mark and one message is essential. ìI have all the respect in the world for Ric. I just interviewed him for a board seat. But I stand by our decision. We have a very weak position with media and regulators, and this strengthens our message.î Also, Barry says, when people hire a planner, they should be reasonably sure theyíre getting a planner and not someone who just sells products. ìI think the CFP ensures that. Weíre not a dictatorship. And Iíd prefer not to lose anyone. But anyone who wants to can take the test,î he adds.