“It definitely has a sales orientation that most RIAs don’t have,” said Sheryl Garrett, founder of the Garrett Planning Network, a group that argues investors are better off paying advisers set fees, such as hourly rates. “Most RIAs don’t know how to sell. Nor would they think of spending the millions a year that Fisher spends on marketing.”

Inspiring Buffett
Founded in 1979, Fisher Investments manages more than $67 billion for private clients and more than $35 billion for institutions, according to data posted on its website before Fisher’s remarks.

His father, the late Philip Fisher, wrote one of the first investment books to become a New York Times best-seller, “Common Stocks and Uncommon Profits,” a 1958 guide that Warren Buffett has called an major influence on his career.

The reins are held tight. Investment decisions are made by Ken Fisher and four other men. While low-cost index-tracking funds have come into vogue in recent decades for their long record of beating actively managed stock funds, Fisher’s pitch is that it can pick winners.

Publicly available information on Fisher’s funds and strategies showed mixed performance. The Purisima Total Return Fund, for example, returned well under half of the S&P 500 Index in its final 10 years before it was liquidated in 2016, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

There are also vehicles that have done better. The Fisher Global Return strategy for private clients generated 10.7% and 7.6% annualized returns after fees on a three- and five-year basis, respectively -- about a half percentage point better than the MSCI World benchmark it uses, according to data provided by the company. The strategy has lagged that index most years in the prolonged bull market since the financial crisis in 2009.

Fisher’s Fees
One reason Fisher Investments has turned into such a bonanza for its founder is simple: fees. Depending on the account assets, fees range from 1% to 1.5% for private clients. In contrast, active U.S. stock funds typically cost about 0.7% of assets per year, according to a Morningstar report earlier this year. Index funds cost about 0.08%.

Where Fisher Investments undeniably excels is at marketing. Salespeople typically work from leads generated from responses to its online ads to ferret out affluent clients.

Kevin Jablonsky has been on the receiving end of such calls. He was set to put $150,000 into a Fisher account until the firm called to say he’d have to chip in more to meet the minimum requirement.

“They would constantly call me, lead me on, call me, lead me on, and then they would try to get more money out of me,” Jablonsky said.