Kerri Sullivan-Kreiss, CFP®, AIF®, founded her independent advisory firm, SullivanKreiss Financial, in 2004. Having spent the previous 13 years as an advisor on staff with a publicly traded company, she wanted to leave big corporate agendas and proprietary investment products behind. As president of her own business, Sullivan-Kreiss was eager to develop a concierge service model built around a strong culture of fiduciary responsibility to clients.
As Sullivan-Kreiss says, “I have always based my business on the fundamental principal of treating others as I would like to be treated. My objective is really very simple: to put our clients’ interests first, act with integrity, and embrace the uniqueness that each client brings to our practice.”
During our conversations, the force of Sullivan-Kreiss’s commitment to this vision always shined through. The successful growth of her firm could be seen as emblematic of the depth with which Sullivan-Kreiss engages with clients. It also highlights her highly efficient use of time. To provide the personalized concierge service that Sullivan-Kreiss believes makes her firm special, she has become a master of time management. She has learned how to operate efficiently and gather the necessary resources to sustain growth and build economies of scale.
If you’re looking to go independent or grow an established advisory business, understanding the power of Sullivan-Kreiss’s business choices could help you chart the way toward optimizing your time and setting your firm up for long-term growth.
Building Something Special
For Sullivan-Kreiss, building client relationships is all about focusing on the journey with each person you serve. In order to develop a quality practice, you have to make each client feel special. That may sound elementary, but it’s important to keep top of mind. As she says, “It’s being there for clients through everyday moments, celebrating life’s major milestones, and helping to provide support, encouragement, and, hopefully, comfort during difficult times.”
A proactive service model. Ideally, SullivanKreiss Financial clients shouldn’t get voicemail when they call, and follow-up to requests and concerns must be speedy and accurate. But concierge service is more than that: it’s being proactive versus responsive, going above and beyond what’s expected. Sullivan-Kreiss focuses on long-term, comprehensive financial planning; she isn’t interested in “simply being a money manager.” This means setting regular reviews to keep abreast of changes in clients’ lives and meeting every two weeks when developing a plan for a new client.
The result? Sullivan-Kreiss has built something special: a highly engaged community of long-term clients. For her, that’s what makes the advisory business rewarding and fun. And there’s icing on the cake: according to Sullivan-Kreiss, “The majority of my firm’s new clients come from referrals from existing clients.”
Spending More Time with Clients
As you can see, Sullivan-Kreiss’s business model is directly tied to her spending as much time as possible with clients. Notably, like many of her Commonwealth peers, Sullivan-Kreiss spends significantly more time in client meetings than other industry advisors. That’s according to a 2020–2021 study conducted by Commonwealth in partnership with Cerulli Associates, which found that, on average, Commonwealth advisors spend 33 percent more time in client meetings than other advisors from both wirehouse and independent firms.
In fact, based on further analysis of the data, Commonwealth's Practice Management team determined that Sullivan-Kreiss ranked in the top decile of productivity among Commonwealth advisors, based on gross revenue, growth rate, and amount of time spent with clients. This statistic speaks to the important work Sullivan-Kreiss undertakes day in and day out with the individuals she serves.
Achieving Scale and Efficiency
So, how is Sullivan-Kreiss able to spend so much time with clients? There are inherent difficulties in scaling a concierge model. Still, as she worked through solving them, Sullivan-Kreiss learned that having the right staff and firm partner can help facilitate business scale and efficiency.
The power of your people. Sullivan-Kreiss delegates administrative, operational, and certain planning tasks so she can focus on client-facing work. With three full-time staff members (a director of client relations, a financial analyst, and an operations manager), she is clear on their importance to her business model: “My team is phenomenal. What they do behind the scenes enables me to be good at my job and spend as much time as I can with my clients. Their strengths allow the firm to deliver top-tier concierge-level support—the personalized touch we devote to each and every client.”
According to Sullivan-Kreiss, her steady growth has been driven by her team’s balance of competencies. And that growth has brought the firm to an inflection point, where additional staff is necessary. To handle the volume of work and keep her productivity high, Sullivan-Kreiss plans to add an investment manager and an additional advisor to the team.
When asked about advice for advisors looking to grow, she states, “One of the most productive things you can do is empower your people and give them room to grow. It’s absolutely key to have the right people on staff, particularly those who have complementary skills sets to yours.”
The impact of your firm partner. Sullivan-Kreiss remembers her firm’s early years flying by in a blur, but she has always recognized the importance of a supportive firm partner. She explains, “In addition to really busting your derriere . . . you have to cultivate the right relationships with the right people. You need to have a partner behind you that’s proactive and responsive.”
Like other independent advisors, Sullivan-Kreiss looks to her firm partner for a wide array of back-office resources and support. Because her work is grounded in financial planning, she appreciates having specialists, such as Commonwealth’s Advanced Planning team, readily available to talk through a complex planning or retirement problem.
As for investment management, Sullivan-Kreiss acknowledges that this role is an ongoing challenge for any independent firm. She prefers custom portfolio management and, with the assistance of her financial analyst, does a great deal of her own investment research. Still, if a client is looking for a specific investment strategy, she wants to be able to rely on her firm partner for specialized knowledge. She receives that support from Commonwealth’s Investment Management and Research team.
Ultimately, Sullivan-Kreiss says that your firm partner must be able to provide a “phenomenal level of support” that’s tailored to your needs.
Cementing the Cornerstones of Success
Being an independent advisor has allowed Sullivan-Kreiss to completely align her firm with her values and clients’ best interests. She’s been able to build the firm she’s always dreamed of, one based on putting her clients’ needs first and powered by efficient time management. Right now, she’s focused on the joys of the present and accelerating even more growth in the future. Anything is possible with her vision, a strong team, and Commonwealth’s partnership at her back.
If you’re an advisor wanting to go independent, Sullivan-Kreiss’s advice is to do it as soon as you can. As for considering a firm partner, be thorough about due diligence and align with a firm whose values mirror yours. Last, but certainly not least, always keep in mind that you want to go where you can grow, even if it’s one step at a time.
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This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.