Mother-daughter teams are a rarity in the financial advisory world, and even rarer when the daughter is the boss. But so it goes at Source Financial Advisors in New York City, a firm founded in 2012. Despite its tender age, this isn’t a newbie endeavor, because the Smiths––Michelle (the daughter) and Corrine (the mom)––both have more than three decades of experience in the business and the company’s asset base is roughly $470 million and growing. In fact, in 2013 it expanded its AUM by more than 200%.

Source is Michelle’s baby, though, a firm founded to accommodate her growing practice specializing in handling divorces for high-net-worth clients. This isn’t a forte she stumbled upon. Rather, she set out early to become a specialist in a particular field, identified divorce as a potentially lucrative market, and worked the beat by cultivating centers of influence to become a go-to expert in this area. Today, she’s a sought-after speaker at conferences on how to handle clients going through divorce.

Smith has worked her way through the profession first in the wirehouse space, then as a breakaway broker, and later as a breakaway independent with her own firm. And in the process she’s sharpened the focus on her chosen niche.

The way she sees it, the generalist in the financial advice game is soooo yesterday. “Creating this divorce specialty more than a decade ago was the real game-changer that enabled me to truly become a business,” says Smith, 50. “I’m not just a good producer with a good philosophy and financial planning story. Now I have a business with a specialty I’m an expert in.”

And now she’s taking her specialist template to other financial advisors. In October, Source launched a coaching program called Anatomy of a Specialist, where Smith personally will teach a select number of advisors how to find the specialist within and how to monetize that.

“Anyone can specialize,” she says. “But it’s an intense, intricate process that Anatomy of a Specialist walks you through on how to identify certain character traits such as what your infrastructure looks like and what you might need. It helps an advisor set out a two-year plan that can double their business.”

Smith is a whirlwind of motion, from handling her busy practice to carving out time for her new coaching program to training for a marathon when she never before ran in her life. Her ultimate goal for Source is to grow the firm and make it a house of specialists by adding a small number of advisors who have a particular niche.

“We want to hire three to five individuals or quality teams of experts,” Smith says. “We want to take our footprint and help these advisors with a great practice to double their business by specializing.”

Quotron Quandary
Smith got into the business as an intern while she was a marketing major at Radford University in Virginia. She interned with her mother, who at the time was a broker at Merrill Lynch working in the Colgate-Palmolive Building on Park Avenue in Manhattan.

“Not a bad internship, right? Park Avenue, Merrill Lynch, New York … it was awesome,” she says. “It was an eye-opening experience, and I quickly saw it was a combination of everything I loved––it’s a person business, a relationship business, a numbers business. After that, I just knew I was going to follow her into the business.”

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