When Scott Winslow co-founded his financial advisory firm in Wilmington, N.C., nine years ago, he and his team provided a range of financial services. But that changed as retirees began to relocate at a rapid pace to the area and the team realized they were going to have to shift focus.

“All you had to do was ask a couple of real estate agents … they couldn’t find enough houses because of how the market here is booming,” said Winslow, managing partner of Nabell Winslow Investments & Wealth Management. “So we started realizing that we want to be all things retirement.”

The boutique firm, with three managing partners and five advisors, now focuses mainly on retirement income planning, largely because of this expanding market, Winslow said. But the switch did not happen overnight. He noted that he and his team first had to obtain the retirement income certified professional (RICP) designation from the American College of Financial Services. It also was important for the team to build close relationships with other professionals, including certified public accountants and corporate attorneys.
“We get the best team possible and build that up so the client can look around the table and say ‘Hey, I got this covered,’” Winslow said.

As consolidation continues in the registered investment advisory industry and demographics continue to change, many firms have been prompted to develop specialties. Winslow was one of three advisors who recently spoke on the topic during a webcast, discussing the ways their firms narrowed focus to respond to the evolving needs of their clients.

The webcast, titled, “Why Now Is The Right Time For RIAs To Specialize,” was sponsored by the American College of Financial Services and moderated by Michael Finke, a professor of wealth management and director for the Granum Center for Financial Security at the college.

Panelist Heather Welsh,  a vice president at Akron, Ohio-based Sequoia Financial Group, said her firm’s growth has afforded it the opportunity to develop specialty teams. She noted that when she began with Sequoia 15 years ago, there were 20 employees. Today there are 190. “So going from wearing many hats to being able to drill down and really develop specialization has been an incredible benefit of our continued growth,” she said.

Welsh is one of six technical planning experts on the wealth planning team at her firm. Sequoia has also built out an asset management department focusing on areas such as portfolio management and research. Another team at the firm handles just wealthy clients with a net worth of $25 million or more. The firm also has sub-specializations within its wealth planning team that include advisors with the RICP designation, a CPA and an accredited estate planner (AEP).

She said it’s all about getting the best minds together to come up with solutions. “So if somebody has a nuanced question in retirement income planning, they know they can pick up the phone and call the RICP designation, or if we are getting into nuanced estate planning, they can call the AEP, so that everybody can really come together with those best thoughts to have that collaborative approach.”

The advisors said continuing education is essential for advisors who want to stay current on all the different aspects of financial planning, and they credit the American College with helping them. “We have taken a lot of classes. It’s a lifetime learning,” Winslow said. “If you don’t keep up with your credentials and your knowledge base, you will fall behind.”

He added that clients can sense when you are faking it, and Finke added that “Fake it till you make it” is the wrong attitude.

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