After nearly three decades of growing a successful RIA business, Michael Schreiber could have been forgiven if he’d wanted to take a victory lap: By 2016, assets under management at his namesake firm had grown to more than $300 million, with more than 200 clients and growing.
Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and hit the phones to survey clients on what he could be doing better.
The most common complaint he heard? “We love you, but what happens to us if you get hit by a bus?” Schreiber recalls. “We heard it over and over again.”
It worried him. Schreiber wanted his clients to feel devoted to the firm Michael A. Schreiber & Associates, not just to him. And separately, he’d noticed his clients and staff were both getting older. He wanted to signal to young potential hires that this was a place they could work and grow and make their mark in the business. He needed a way to show younger clients that his firm was a place they could bring their growing assets. And he had to assure current clients they would be okay if he was indeed hit by a bus.
In short, he needed to rebrand his firm.
“I wanted to rename the firm to represent what we stand for as an organization,” Schreiber said. “I wanted to get the message across that we not only want to help our clients, we want to help the next generation, and we want to help them for the long term.”
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In January 2017, Michael A. Schreiber & Associates became Aevitas Wealth Management. The firm is less than a year into its rebrand, and Schreiber says they are still in the process of measuring its impact. But it’s clear to him that his early efforts are starting to pay off.
“Before this, the firm had never done any marketing whatsoever. Our business has been built on referrals,” he says. “But in the modern environment, it’s important to be more assertive in order to reach clients and prospective talent.”
President, Aevitas Wealth Management
Michael Schreiber: I’ve operated as a sole proprietor for most of my career. Started going out and talking to my clients because all my growth in the business for the years — and it’s been exceptional — has been totally on just my clients’ sending people to us, without asking for referrals or anything. And we reached a scale where [I] as the sole rainmaker could not grow the firm as quickly each year anymore — despite how successful we were — to keep up with the rising costs of labor, technology. I was getting a bigger and bigger staff, bigger and bigger office. So I went out and asked my top clients, “Obviously you like me, or you’ve been with me for many, many years. What don’t you like about my firm?” And every one of them said the same thing: “What happens when you leave? What happens if you get hit by a bus?”
I have a 10-year old daughter. I started to really, really focus on what the next generation for the firm is going to look like — not only for me, not only for my employees but for my clients. I realized I was Michael Schreiber and Associates. And I realized that we wanted to rebrand the firm to be a brand that may attract advisors, but also a brand that would reassure my clients that well beyond my retirement, the firm may last.
We’ve been very, very successful in bringing on our clients’ children and grandchildren. For years we’ve had this mission where we’ve offered free services for all their children and grandchildren until they hit a certain net worth. So we embarked on this initiative. And it’s not easy to brand; it’s not easy to come up with a name in this industry. But we finally settled on Aevitas Wealth Management — which means lifetime, generation to generation — and really put together this robust marketing program to educate and bring our clients on board with this philosophy.
One of the challenges we’re facing today, now that we’ve done this rebranding, is my clients are getting older. I can’t continue to just offer free services to new millennials. So we’re really embarking on not only bringing in new advisors and younger advisors, but trying to engage our clients more digitally. It occurred to me a lot of my clients were signing up for SigFig and all these sites to get performance and to get all this information on their accounts with me. All these sites they were signing up for are sites that just want to take the business from me. So we’re really putting several initiatives in place to educate our clients on digital, because we want them to be digital through us, not through some other organization.
Our challenge is really becoming more digital, becoming more technology-oriented, becoming more appealing to the new millennials and basically dealing with all the compliance and regulatory issues.
That’s where we are: trying to re-energize the firm and find more ways to grow besides just people coming to me because they like me.
We spoke to Schreiber about his rebranding process to learn more about the steps he took.
1. Survey Clients and Staff to Understand How They View You.
Schreiber knew his ultimate goal was to build a firm that appealed to a wider range of clients and employees. But without doing his homework, there was no way to know how far he was from that goal. He knew he had to do his research. The first step was finding out how clients and co-workers saw him today. So he took time at the outset to collect a large sample of honest opinions, a task he says helped him avoid pitfalls down the road.
Talking to clients and staff of all ages, he asked them, “When you think of Schreiber & Associates, what resonates with you?”
It was an informative and at times humbling experience, he said. And it can take a significant amount of time. But it was crucial to understanding where he was as a brand and where he needed to be.
“What you hear back can be very surprising and even shocking, but you need to hear it,” he says. “Listening goes a long way.”
2. Brainstorm Until You Get It Right.
The most creative part of rebranding can be the most frustrating, Schreiber says. He brainstormed with staff and other professionals, throwing ideas for names, logos and fonts at the wall to see what stuck. He quickly found out that choosing new colors, fonts and logos is fun until you realize how many colors, fonts and logos there are to choose from — and how many were already taken.
“We hired a graphic designer and threw names at her by the hundreds,” Schreiber says. The designer then worked with a trademark lawyer to determine which names were legally available.
“You quickly learn that finding a name that is memorable and conveys the message you want to convey is very tough,” he says.
The process took several months, but Schreiber says it was worth it to find the right name.
Aevitas, a Latin word that means “time unending” is a moniker Schreiber believes signals the longevity of a firm that will last long after him as well as his approach to investing. And separating his name from the firm makes clear to clients and staff that the company is more than Michael Schreiber.
“We really, really worked hard to find something that resonates, and when we landed on Aevitas, it just did. It perfectly described what we were about. We wouldn’t have gotten there without the work.”
3. Invest in Educating Clients and Staff About the Changes.
One of Schreiber’s big lessons from the rebrand? No matter how much you think you’ve prepared clients for the change, don’t trust that the message was received. Almost instantly after unveiling the company’s new brand, the calls and emails began coming in.
“We told people what we were going to do before we did it; then we told them we were doing it. And then we told them we did it. And we still had tons of people calling up after the fact asking ‘what is going on?,’” Schreiber says. “There’s a lot of handholding, and if I could do it over again, I would do even more.”
He personally fielded dozens of calls from concerned clients who thought he was selling the firm and retiring. And he took the time to reassure them that everything was going to be OK. It was an important reminder that rebranding is a process, he said.
“You have to be ready and willing to continually educate clients on what’s changing and what isn’t. And then do more.”
4. Incorporate the New Brand in Tangible Ways Across the Business.
Rebranding isn’t a “set it and forget it” event. It’s a message that has to translate into everyday practice.
For Schreiber, that meant making sure the new brand, look and message conveyed the company’s values, business practice and appearance. That translated to many real-world changes.
There were simple things, like a new look for the website and letterhead, and making sure everyone knew the name. But there have also been more complicated and time-consuming efforts, like recruiting younger talent and investing in a more robust digital presence. For Schreiber personally, it meant learning how to delegate responsibilities in a way that empowered his employees. It meant improving how Aevitas did business, from the top down.
“I want my staff to treat the business like they’re an owner and take risks and be innovative, because that’s what it’s all about,” Schreiber says. “We are building a brand that is meant to survive for years after I’m gone. For that to happen, everyone needs to buy in.”