The power of high-touch, holistic client service, with Ira Rapaport and team
Will McKenna: Hello, and welcome to the PracticeLab podcast, where we talk to top advisors about what makes them successful, so that you can apply those lessons in your own business. I'm your host, Will McKenna, and in this episode we welcome Ira Rapaport and his team from New England Private Wealth Advisors. Ira leads this fee-only RIA firm based in the Boston area that has grown to over $2 billion in assets under management. One key to their success is an unwavering focus on providing an excellent client experience, which has led to a client retention rate of over 95%. So, how did they do it? Well, in addition to providing holistic financial planning, they also focus on the softer side of the business, developing deep, long-term relationships with client families.
So, in this episode, you'll hear from Ira as well as several members of his team, Jennifer Votano, Melissa Boccaci and Sara Sokolowski, as we learn how they deliver high-touch personal service and holistic financial planning, and how their laser focus on the client experiences helped them become a multibillion dollar firm strictly through organic growth.
So let's go ahead and jump into this episode of the PracticeLab podcast.
Will McKenna: Ira Rapoport and team, welcome to the PracticeLab podcast. Ira, let's start with you. If you could describe your current practice, paint a picture for us of your business as it stands today.
Ira Rapaport: Sure, currently, the team size is 18. The 18 of us is made up of five men, 13 women. We are managing assets a little over $2 billion. We have really strong client retention, over 95%. One of the big differentiators is the high-touch, personal approach. Very proactive, highly communicative, in helping clients with the traditional planning, but also helping them with some of the softer sides of, you know, working with their family, their children, their grandchildren. I think that's one of the differentiators that we can provide.
We've grown organically, really, without anybody doing client development work. It's just been a biproduct of providing good advice and not only meeting our clients’ expectations but exceeding them. Our clients are our biggest advocates, and they have allowed us to grow and be what we are today, because of the total team approach that we employ.
Will McKenna: Ira, you've built this very young, dynamic, diverse team. Why was that your approach? And how did you do that?
Ira Rapaport: Sure. I think diversity is the key to the organization and is the future. It makes a company a better place to work. We always want access to the best available talent. And I think, as we have grown over the last 15 years, and we've had a need to hire, we do a full search and a lot of great colleges and universities are sort of right there in our neighborhood. Northeastern University has a great internship program. So we're able to utilize interns and have them come in and learn from our team. And same thing, we get to kick the tires and see if they potentially may be someone we want to have as a long-term employee. Bentley College is also in our backyard, and they have a very strong business school. They have a trading room, and they have programs specifically geared towards CFP and financial planning.
I think just in general, the benefit of having a young team is that young people tend to bring fresh ideas and fresh perspectives. They're very energetic, they provide enthusiasm, and, most importantly, they're very productive.
Will McKenna: That's great. Jennifer Votano, I want to come over to you and hear about your experience. What would you say is unique and distinctive about your practice?
Jennifer Votano: One thing that I will say that I think is very important to what we do and what we're well known for is very high client retention and low employee turnover. So, because of that, we really have the ability to have very long-term relationships with our clients. So we've really been through a lot of the highs and the lows with the clients, you know, just various different experiences in life, some good, some bad. Birth of children, grandchildren, weddings, but on the other side, you know, divorces and illness and death. And just by nature of the relationships we have with clients, we just start to form that bond with them where they just feel very comfortable with us, very trusting. And just the more and more we work with them, the stronger that bond becomes.
So, while we're financial advisors, we really become a part of their life, because they're entrusting in us and letting us know so much about them as individuals and their families. And we really have a chance to understand what they really want out of the money that they've accumulated by saving. So it's not always just a financial picture, it's much more an emotional side. And I think that is part of the reason we have the high retention is that they know that we do go above and beyond, and that they're comfortable asking us for any type of question — whether it's help with a refinance, or talking to the CPA or talking to the attorney, we're establishing relationships. And the goal is how can we help them achieve their financial objectives, the best way that we can. And I think just even having those extra efforts really make a difference.
Another story just in terms of working with a client, they were trying to buy a condo for their daughter in New York City. They had to go in front of this board and put together this package, you know, just to buy a condo, it was unbelievable. And it was a lot of hours, just helping put the paperwork together. And I remember they ended up sending us flowers after it like a thank you. But just because I think that the clients truly appreciate all the effort we put in, the high attention to detail, and our genuine desire to really help them get everything together.
Will McKenna: That's great. So it sounds like that holistic approach, and doing what essentially whatever it takes to meet the client needs, is part of that relationship. Melissa Boccaci, let's bring you into the conversation. It would be great to get your perspective on what you do at the firm, and the services that you're focused on providing, and what might make those distinct in the market you serve.
Melissa Boccaci: Something a lot of our clients are interested in talking about is next generation, and you know, how they're going to transfer wealth or when they should transfer wealth and how much information they should share with the next generation. And so, one of the things we've done is hold family meetings. So we may have our clients and then we've invited their adult children and their spouses will all sit around the table. And we'll prepare schedules that sort of summarize assets that our clients have, including stuff maybe that, like real estate, that the family might own. We'll put it into these nice summary pages where we can walk through with the adult children, you know, sort of how everything's owned, and what the plan is. And I think it really gives the opportunity for the parents to sort of start the conversation, where they can sort of talk about what they hope happens, as their legacy sort of passes to the next generation, what they hope their children will continue to do with it. Sometimes we even have the state attorney in the meeting with us just to have their perspective of how it will work.
You know, we did another one with, unfortunately, a client of ours is sort of losing a battle with cancer. And she really wanted to understand, when she was to pass, sort of what her children will have and how they'll inherit it. And so, again, we put together a summary schedule of everything she owned, including family real estate, and who the other family members were involved in that real estate, and just laid it out clearly. So she could see where everything was now and then what was going to her children. And I think it just gave her a peace of mind that she's going to leave her children in a really great position. I think that made her feel well. And I think it made her feel comfortable that we also understood where everything that was going to happen. And that we could be part of that process and sort of transitioning the wealth to her children and then hopefully continuing to help the children with inherited wealth. Throughout the years, we've developed really close relationships with our clients. And so, I think they're very comfortable being very honest and vulnerable in front of us. And I think we're respectful of the fact that it's not just numbers on a page. But I think just knowing them so well helps in these sorts of emotional situations.
Will McKenna: That's a great story. Thank you. Thank you for sharing that. Sara Sokolowski is on the line. And Sara, what are the kinds of services that you bring to the table that you think are really adding value for your client base?
Sara Sokolowski: I just wanted to highlight today a little bit of the personal touch that we really enjoy at New England Private Wealth Advisors.
Often, we'll visit clients at their homes or assisted living facility to help them sign some paperwork. Or, you know, often we’ll meet at attorneys or CPAs office just to help coordinate all their team of advisors. So, I would say more often than not when the business of the meeting is done, we'll often spend an hour or so just catching up on each other's families. You know, we've been guests at our clients' adult children's weddings. So we really get to know these, our clients, on a personal level. And I think the genuine connections and friendships that we make with our clients is one of our things that we really enjoy about working in this industry. And, you know, that may set us apart from some other some other firms. That's just another thing that we wanted to highlight.
Will McKenna: OK, so that gives you several views of the total team approach that they use at New England Private Wealth Advisors. And one of the best examples of the high-touch service they provide is an annual client appreciation event that mixes learning opportunities with socializing and fun. Ira says it's like throwing a wedding every year. He even invites asset managers like Capital Group in appreciation for their partnership and providing insights and perspective to his team and his clients. So, let's go back to Ira describing how they put these events on every year...
Ira Rapaport: We really enjoy doing it. So, it's sort of like a wedding. We put on a very really large event. We started from year one, and maybe we had 50 people show up. And now we have well over 150 people show up.
What we're trying to do is provide clients access to portfolio managers, just different national thought leaders. So our client event is twofold. One is the first two hours is three or four speakers. And it's in a, you know, sit-down auditorium type environment. Clients can hear different perspectives, whether it's on the stock market, or philanthropy, or retirement planning, or politics, or taxes. And these are national leaders that fly in to speak at our client event. And then we have a nice social reception afterwards for another two hours.
And, you know, at the end of the day, we're exhausted. Our clients, even after four hours, they don't want to go home, which is awesome. So we just have a very long night, and we love it. And a lot of our clients will bring their children and just get a way that we can all get to know our client families, you know, more intimately. They might want to bring a friend, and that's sort of a way that we can get clients, but we really use it as a way to thank our clients. And, you know, once they come once, they're hooked on to it. And they're constantly asking, “When is next year's client event?”
Will McKenna: That's great, great story. And it sounds like you're using firms like Capital Group and others as kind of a virtual extension of your team, a way to bring in perspective, thought leadership, etc., share that with your clients who seem to appreciate that.
Ira Rapaport: You know, we can really learn from the Capital Group and other fund families out there because they have, you know, perspectives that they can share with us. They have deep research teams, they have a lot of educational content and material that we can use either internally or share with our clients. So, we embrace those types of relationships and sort of as an external partner to our firm.
Will McKenna: One of the topics that's near and dear to advisors’ hearts is productivity. Ira, why don't we start with you? How do you approach the whole topic of productivity at this stage of your career?
Ira Rapaport: Yeah, so I think, obviously, technology is an important tool. We want to be able to leverage that as much as possible. I think that, you know, as we have grown over the years, we want to make sure that the lead advisors, the senior advisors have capacity, and they have support.
You know, all the lead advisors have 50 clients. And with 50 clients, we can easily touch them all on a monthly basis, and then have a more in-depth review two to three times a year.
Will McKenna: That's great. Melissa, why don't I come back to you and ask a similar question. How do you stay productive? What's the typical week look like for you? How are you trying to improve your own efficiency?
Melissa Boccaci: We're all there to help each other, which is great. So, you know, we'll have emails that go around that said, “Hey, I'm going to introduce this new idea to a client. Have one you guys done it recently?” And, you know, someone will say, “Yeah, check this agenda out” or “Look here, I wrote something up about it.” So we're really good at sharing ideas and thoughts. Everybody's there to help each other out. So there really is a support system. And if I had a good idea, I want someone else to use it, too. And then, as I mentioned, we all have people that are supporting us in the office, and they're instrumental to us being able to push out work.
Will McKenna: Jennifer, let me come back to you. And maybe a two-part question. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started? And what advice would you give to a young planner just starting out in the business?
Jennifer Votano: I laugh, because when I first joined on with Ira, I think it was April of 2005. So less than four months after the firm started, and I started on a Monday, and he's like, “OK, wear a suit, because tomorrow we're going to a meeting.” And I was like, OK, you know, so he kind of just threw me right in. And he said, “You don't need to talk. Just listen. Observe.” And that was such a huge experience and a benefit for me, because I was really able to just dip my feet right in and just really get a taste of what the business was like. And I'm so appreciative of that. One thing I would also say is, we're on a constant learning curve, as individuals, as planners, and our clients also teach us because they offer other perspectives. And then they also prompt us with situations we may not have faced before.
Ira has the benefit of working with all of the clients where he can say to each of us, and I know Melissa referenced this, but I just went through a similar situation with Sara, talked to her. So we're constantly learning from one another. We're constantly learning from our clients. And I'd say that that's very motivating and very encouraging. We all want to learn and get better. So I would say finding an environment like that. So basically the same as what we have.
Will McKenna: That's awesome. Thank you. And Ira, let's bring it back to you for maybe some final thoughts. Two or three key takeaways for advisors listening to this about what they can do to improve their business, grow their practice.
Ira Rapaport: I think any firm out there is only as good as the people that work there. So I think first and foremost, you need to have the best talent. And that talent needs to work together cohesively as one team, not silos competing against each other. We're very fortunate to have a lot of talent, passionate, enthusiastic people that care about our clients. And at the end of the day, we're building long-term relationships with our clients. Successful firms out there need to obviously have the right people in the right place. But I think, going forward, I think that the industry needs to take a more holistic approach in providing more comprehensive services. And I think as the baby boomers get older, and you know, clients are looking for more retirement plan analysis, you know, people find that really helpful just to understand, you know, what's their number, when are they truly independent. And then, you know, let's help them get there and beyond. And then once they're beyond that number, then they can start aggressively gifting to the next generation and generation after that.
Will McKenna: Well, Ira Rapoport and team, great to have you all. Thank you so much for joining us on the PracticeLab podcast.
Ira Rapaport: Thanks, Will. I really enjoyed it.
Will McKenna: OK, so that wraps up this episode of the PracticeLab podcast. Special thanks to Ira Rapaport and his team for coming on the show. And thanks to my colleague, Damian Carroll, for connecting us with New England Private Wealth Advisors.
If you liked what you heard today, please consider subscribing and leaving a rating and review, because that helps other advisors find this program. PracticeLab is brought to you by Capital Group, and you can find all our episodes and much more at practicelab.com. I hope you found this episode helpful, and I look forward to joining you on the next episode of the PracticeLab podcast.