[In our age of polarized perspectives, alternative facts, floods of disinformation and distrust for many traditional sources of information today, it is no small feat to build a trusted site for information and community. This is especially important in the essential areas of financial literacy for retail investors and financial services business innovation for financial advisors.

With this in mind, we reached out to Brian Thorp, founder, CEO and editor-in-chief of Wealthtender, who brought an entrepreneurial mindset and independent approach to building an integrated informational platform for two communities — retail investors and financial professionals — with the goal, through quality engagement, of making them one community engaged towards financial action.

 Already receiving recognition with robust retail investor traffic and being rated "extraordinary" by advisors in 2023 and 2024 T3 Software Survey, we wanted to ask him questions to learn how he designed his online platform and his thoughts on further expanding financial literacy and engagement for the financial services industry.]

Bill Hortz: Building the #1 independent digital retail investor and find-an-advisor platform does not happen by sheer luck or serendipity. How did you strategically go about building Wealthtender.com?

Brian Thorp: Before starting Wealthtender, I spent 22 years with Invesco, most recently leading the US national accounts team. During my time there, I observed how regulatory changes created opportunities for disruption and innovation. Based on speculation that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) would finally reverse its rule prohibiting advisors from being able to ask clients for testimonials or collect and promote online reviews, I left my corporate career in 2019 to design Wealthtender as the first financial advisor online review platform designed for SEC compliance. 

On May 4, 2021, when the new SEC Marketing Rule took effect, we concurrently announced the launch of our SEC-compliant online review platform for financial advisors to help consumers make more informed and educated hiring decisions. 

Our blueprint for designing Wealthtender incorporated the best practices we identified in other trust-based professions where similar platforms have existed for many years. For example, consumers preparing to hire doctors and lawyers often begin with an internet search for symptoms they are experiencing or a legal matter where they need help. Often, the top-ranking articles for these types of queries are educational articles published on platforms that include directories of doctors and lawyers with their online reviews.

By following in the footsteps of successful online review websites in other professions, focusing our content strategy on personal finance topics, and implementing an effective SEO (search engine optimization) strategy where numerous articles published on wealthtender.com rank on the first page of Google, this all contributes significantly to the site's 500,000 visitors each year. 

Hortz: As the editor-in-chief, how are you building content for your platform? What are your editorial policies for your internal writers and how do you look externally for content that is valuable and that inspires repeat visits to your site?

Thorp: Upon launching Wealthtender in July 2019, we knew our primary focus for the first year would include publishing high-quality articles on a diverse range of personal finance topics to attract readers with an interest in improving their financial well-being. While we publish articles covering a wide range of topics, we prioritize articles we want to rank near the top of Google for searches likely being conducted by consumers who are preparing to hire financial advisors. These educational articles help consumers make more informed and educated hiring decisions, whether they are looking for an advisor locally, based on compensation model, areas of specialization, or those who may be highly rated by their clients. For example: Should You Hire a Retirement Financial Advisor?, Find Highly Rated Small Business Financial Advisors, or Find Highly Rated Financial Advisors.

We have a team of contributing writers with diverse backgrounds, credentials, and experience and an editorial policy focused on publishing original content designed to help people enjoy life more with less money stress. We also focus on inclusivity, with a broad range of articles that empower consumers to make informed and educated decisions, no matter their income or stage of life. Of course, we acknowledge that we may be influenced to write more frequently about the professionals who join Wealthtender and their areas of focus, but our commitment always remains to provide our readers with an unbiased discussion of professionals, products, and services featured on Wealthtender, and transparent disclosures where conflicts of interest may exist. 

Hortz: How did you simultaneously build Wealthtender.com into a leading digital marketing platform for financial advisors and wealth management firms?

Thorp:  One of the benefits of building a website like Wealthtender that generates significant consumer traffic organically and is optimized for SEO is that financial advisors who join our community ride our coattails. For example, upon joining our platform, a financial advisor's Wealthtender profile typically begins to rank on the first page of Google for relevant search terms within a few days.

As we cultivated our own network of contributing writers, we established rapport with independent writers and journalists who now turn to Wealthtender each week to request quotes from advisors in our community to contribute to articles they are writing for popular finance websites and national media outlets. These are just two examples of ways advisors can strengthen their SEO and build authority upon joining Wealthtender. 

Hortz: What is the secret in building a strong SEO presence on the web and being able to help enhance the awareness and searchability of your personal finance content and the information of your advisor clients?

Thorp:   Optimizing a website for SEO requires both art and science... and patience. Without a doubt, websites that have been operating for many years or possibly decades have a massive advantage over newer websites looking to gain traction and organic traffic, especially when it comes to topics related to personal finance. For example, articles published on sites like NerdWallet and Investopedia often rank among the very top of search results for just about any finance-related query. This is a reflection of their breadth of content, the quality of their writers, years of SEO efforts, and the credibility they have established with search engines.

Ranking personal finance articles near the top of Google search results is especially difficult due to standards implemented by the search engine, often referred to as E-E-A-T and YMYL.

E-E-A-T is a term used by Google that stands for Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness as it pertains to the creator of website content. The term originates from a 175-page document used by human ‘Quality Raters’ to assess the quality of Google’s search results.

YMYL is another term defined by Google in the document as topics that could impact ‘Your Money or Your Life’. Specifically, Google states that “Some types of [web] pages or topics could potentially impact a person’s future happiness, health, financial stability, or safety.

Websites like Wealthtender that publish personal finance content (and financial advisor websites!) are subject to higher E-E-A-T and YMYL standards by Google than websites on topics of less importance to people’s lives. In order to meet these higher standards, it is imperative to focus on writing high-quality and accurate content written by knowledgeable writers. The odds of an article ranking near the top of Google search results can also be influenced by the number of unaffiliated and credible websites that link to the article as a reference source. This is a focal point of SEO efforts, which requires years of effort to accumulate links in a manner considered "natural" to avoid the risk of being penalized by search engines. 

Hortz: How did you design into your platform such a strong customer experience and engagement with such high retail investor traffic and high ranking by financial advisors in the T3 survey?

Thorp:  While appreciating the significant consumer traffic we drive to wealthtender.com primarily through our published content and technical SEO efforts, the 'extraordinary' rating Wealthtender received from advisors in the 2023 and 2024 T3 Advisor Software Survey reflects the 'human touch' we know advisors appreciate about their experience upon joining our community. This is in addition to the value of the digital marketing benefits we offer for a nominal monthly cost. From the moment advisors join Wealthtender, we make a concerted effort to connect with them personally and ensure they know it is always easy to connect with a member of our team who will be happy to speak with them personally or quickly address any service requests. 

I also love meeting the advisors in our community in person throughout the year, often at industry events and conferences where we can host happy hours and meet-ups. I am happy to call many of the advisors in our community friends, and I tremendously value their feedback and support, which helps us continuously improve and better meet their needs.

Hortz: Besides helping advisors widely share their content, testimonials, and thought leadership perspectives, how are you also developing your advisor portal on your website into a leading financial advisor community?

Thorp:  Since launching Wealthtender in 2019, I have been excited about the opportunity to cultivate a community of advisors interested in learning and growing together. When Taylor Schulte, a well-known advisor in San Diego and co-founder of a popular advisor community, approached me in 2021 about joining forces, we quickly realized the timing and fit were perfect. 

Taylor Schute co-founded AGC (Advisors Growing as a Community) in 2019 with Justin Castelli, a successful advisor in Indiana. Since its launch, Taylor and Justin have cultivated a thriving community of more than 150 like-minded advisors who gather online weekly and at industry events to collaborate and grow professionally and personally alongside their peers. 

In October 2021, we publicly announced Wealthtender's acquisition of AGC. Under Taylor and Justin's continued leadership alongside myself, Chief Evangelist Diana Cabrices, and AGC Community Manager Haley Marx, we continue to focus on fostering community, collaboration, and inspiration while expanding membership benefits to include innovative digital marketing tools from Wealthtender. We are excited to welcome additional advisors into the community who have an abundance mindset and interest in growing together.

Hortz: What are the different ways you work with marketing agencies, journalists, financial coaches, and non-profit organizations in developing your platform into a serious informational and educational effort?

Thorp:  In addition to cultivating a thriving community of financial advisors, we love partnering with marketing agencies, industry consultants, and vendors we highly regard. We launched our Wealthtender Certified Consultant program in 2023 to formalize our support of agencies and consultants that provide advisors with value-added marketing services powered by the Wealthtender platform. And in 2024, we have begun rolling out the Wealthtender advisor service provider directory to showcase vendors and agencies focused on helping advisors succeed with marketing and practice management. 

Hortz: There is so much being written about the need for financial literacy and expanding the efforts for financial education. Where do you see trends in financial literacy going and how are you helping support both retail investors and advisors in this effort?

Thorp: While our ultimate goal is to connect more Americans with financial advisors who can serve them well, many people may not yet be ready to hire an advisor or prefer a do-it-yourself approach. This does not mean they should feel they are on their own. For these individuals, we publish hundreds of educational articles on Wealthtender, plus directories of personal finance blogs and podcasts that offer additional ways for people to learn how they can make smarter decisions with their money.

But most importantly, beyond the ongoing need to improve financial literacy among all Americans, it is imperative that we change the typical consumer's perception of financial advisors. Research conducted by the CFA Institute (2022 study PDF) shows that consumers who do not work with advisors perceive them as less trustworthy than auto mechanics. Conversely, the study shows consumers who work with advisors are very happy with their experience.

So where is the disconnect in consumer perception vs. the reality of the client experience?

This is one of the primary reasons I left my leadership role at Invesco in 2019 to launch Wealthtender as the industry's first online review platform. I have such a strong conviction in our ability to change our industry's reputation once and for all that I wanted to do something about it. 

Testimonials convey client satisfaction and rank as one of the most effective ways to bolster a professional's reputation. In today's world, testimonials usually come in the form of online reviews, and thanks to the SEC Marketing Rule, financial advisors now have the ability for their clients' voices to be heard by prospects turning to the internet and looking for reviews of advisors online.

Can you imagine an advisor's first conversation with a prospect who has already read their positive reviews? With trust and credibility already established, the prospect comes into the conversation feeling at ease and excited for their own journey to get started as a client of the advisor they have already vetted.

Now, imagine: How will thousands of these reviews across the country benefit consumer perceptions of our profession as a whole? This is how we begin to change the reputation of our industry, and I am excited about the role Wealthtender can play to help advisors strengthen their reputations and turn skeptical prospects into satisfied clients who enjoy life more with less money stress. 

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We operate as a business innovation platform and educational resource with FinTech and financial services firm members to openly share their unique perspectives and activities. The goal is to build awareness and stimulate open thought leadership discussions on new or evolving industry approaches and thinking to facilitate next-generation growth, differentiation and unique client/community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors — Ultimus Fund Solutions, NASDAQ, FLX Networks, TIFIN, Advisorpedia, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor magazine).