Reese Harper, CFP®
Reese Harper, CFP®

Article's Author

How I Think About Advice Consumers, An RIA Guide by Reese Harper

In the past, RIA’s have been able to survive, and in some cases thrive, with almost zero marketing, and a single service targeted toward one archetype.

When it comes to marketing, the most common response I hear is: “we’ve never really had to market.”

When it comes to service, the most common response I hear is: “we invest money… [insert some investment jargon].”

But modern consumer preferences are changing quickly, and new client archetypes are emerging that have very different buying patterns and strong preferences for new service models.

Here’s my personal experience.

If I want to grow at a healthy, above-average rate in 2023, I have to service more than one consumer archetype, and each client archetype will require different service. This means I will also need different marketing approaches to convert and serve them profitably.

Targeting new types of consumers is very different from selecting a niche (which you should most definitely do). But even within a niche, like mine (dentists) you can further define by the consumer archetypes that exist most commonly.

For example, within the dental niche, there are consumers who prefer to complete financial jobs all on their own, without really sharing any of their information. There are also some dentists who want to outsource everything regarding their money. There are also shades of dentists who want something more hybrid or collaborative. But they want to retain decision-making authority.

Most of what I’m sharing here is just my experience, and although I have not read or paid for Forrester’s full consumer research report, I am going to use the segmentation language they use on their public-facing website as I think they deserve some credit for influencing my anecdotes. My opinions below are not intended to reflect Forrester’s research, and as I mentioned, I have not read the full report. I’m just speaking from my own experience and I really appreciated this visual.

As you can see from their website, they define consumers in one of four groups. Self-Directed (what you might call a DIY), the Disengaged, the Validator, and the Delegator. Not all archetypes are equally likely to engage, nor are they equally likely to purchase. So it’s important to prioritize your marketing resources towards the archetypes that are most likely to convert to the service that you are looking to provide. Your marketing messaging strategy for your niche should be informed by the archetype within that niche that you are targeting. For example, if you’re looking to expand into more validator-type clients, you would use a different message that left them feeling in control. For deeply aligned validators, you might want to focus on messaging that was more in line with their stated pain. (I just don’t want to deal with this.)

Self-Directed Investors

This archetype is the least likely consumer to work with financial professionals. IME, some of these consumers are truly frustrated with the “fraud” perpetrated by the financial advisory community. They feel like everyone choosing to work with a financial advisor is just dumb. Others within this group are just super skeptical, but when they meet the right advisor, they might be willing to get some help.

I would assume that this archetype would convert to a validator more easily than they would convert to becoming a delegator.

This consumer is very interested in doing their own research and gets a lot of joy from reading and reviewing and exploring and interacting with data.

An offering inside of your practice that targets this consumer would most likely be a course, a guide, a spreadsheet, or a paid event that was very clearly marketed towards this type of consumer. By calling out this consumer you can more fully engage them and pique their curiosity and interest.

Don’t be frustrated when you bump into someone who assumes all financial advisors are stupid, unintelligent, and a waste of their time. Addressing this head on in your marketing will likely have great benefits.

This consumer really appreciates content. They’re looking to up their game, to take advantage of opportunities. If you have a unique knowledge or unique insight about a particular issue, you might find that this consumer is most likely to purchase from you. It can be really great to be a creator who provides self-directed investors with resources to help them on their journey. Don’t shy away from this business model, but it might be more content driven than service driven. That being said, if you’re thoughtful about what you’re providing to them and how they can use it in their own lives, some of these people may convert over to become validators as you expose your expertise to them. The deeper your expertise is the more relatable you are to their persona, and the more likely you are to persuade them to consider your offering.

Disengaged Consumers

The second most likely consumer to engage with financial advisors is the disengaged consumer. Disengaged consumers are extremely private and risk averse. They’re very cautious about opening up their finances to another person.

In my experience working with dentists, I’ve seen this consumer show up to a dinner event or presentation, and not say anything. They just take really good notes and quietly, after the event, will come up and tell me just a tiny bit about their situation. But only if they feel safe. I’m surprised at how much money they have and how long they have gone without getting advice or looking for help from someone. They’re very private and very happy with being alone for quite a while. I think there’s just a level of distrust and it takes a long time for them to build a relationship with someone around their finances.

These clients do convert, but in my experience they would be more likely to convert to become delegators. As you can see in Forrester’s chart, the common ground between disengaged consumers and delegators is that they don’t like doing their own research. I have some of these clients, and the sales conversion process was long, but they are very trusting after they find the right person.

These types of clients won’t be your primary customer most likely, but they can make for really great clients and often have very large AUM balances that they’ve accumulated over the years that are just sitting in checking accounts.

IME, it’s important for advisors to be vulnerable, candid, and open with these types of people to build trust as quickly as possible.

Also in my experience, because this consumer tends to be more risk averse and private, I have had some success here with traditional media: thoughtfully, emotionally intelligent curated letters in the mail, events in their own city, local restaurants that everyone knows is a safe place to be.

You have to increase the amount of safety and security this person is able to have. They might be a newsletter subscriber before they ever become a delegator. You have to curate and warm this consumer up, and help them find their own comfort level with you.


The third consumer is the validator.

In my experience, this category is really the one that’s growing. I think a service offering that targets this archetype represents the most comfortable, high-conversion rate sale. This consumer appears to be the most common among Gen Y and Z. They take on a lot of the traits of typical millennials. They have a general distrust of institutions: they prefer a smaller boutique operation, local products and services, and they aren’t afraid to pay for quality. They just need a lot of evidence.

They do a lot of their own research but are often doing their own research to narrow down where to get help. They don’t necessarily want to shoulder the entire burden alone. At the end of the day, they’re not doing the research to be able to self direct. They’re doing the research in order to find the resources that they can depend on to both answer their questions and get the services that they want.

They won’t purchase blindly, they’re much more informed, and are far more likely to prefer a digital outreach as a first touch. From a prospecting point of view, financial assessment software like Elements allows me to demonstrate my value really fast, using their personal data, which is a really strong value proposition.

I think this type of consumer, at least in my own experience building my RIA, is mostly interested in validating the individual person they want to start trusting and you have to provide them with an ample amount of evidence to demonstrate your value.

With this type of consumer, I wouldn’t worry about over sharing with them. They’re not really trying to do this on their own. They just need a lot more proof that you know what you’re doing and that you can actually help them.


And finally, the most likely category of consumer to work with for financial advisors: the delegator. The delegator is someone who’s not interested in personal finance. They are the consumer type who is fine with avoiding this subject matter, or at least paying a premium to have someone else deal with it.

You might find that you have quite a few of these types of people who in fact don’t even really want to meet. They’ve made the decision to have you worry about this and they’re done dealing with it now.

They prioritize fast responses to their inbound inquiries, but they also don’t call that often. When they do, pick up the phone quickly and dedicate the time to them. This is a huge benefit.

You can relax a little bit with this consumer type because ultimately they trust you to do your job. The type of deliverables you provide them with and the information you share should be focused on helping them know that you’ve got this and that it’s handled.

I think there is a LOT of room for innovation with this consumer type. Consolidated tax and legal services, new features, and preferences for interacting with the “best people.” In other words, if you can manage the emotional jobs well, and have a high emotional IQ, this client will be very loyal and refer.

Stay narrow initially, then expand

There are lots of places that do research on consumer archetypes, and I’m always looking for new learnings. Perhaps for simplicity sake, I just divide the market up in fourths, at least right now. I think the data shows that more people than not are looking for professional help when it comes to money. In other words, I think 60%+ of the population is likely in the delegator and validator models (the two that value professional guidance). But I also think that firms can target the other two groups profitably (self-directed’s and disengaged).

Keep in mind, since delegators tend to have a very high retention rate (at least in part because they’re not doing ongoing research), you’re really trying to market for the roughly one in four consumers that have not picked a financial advisor yet but are beginning to feel the need to hire one, which is probably in their mid to late thirties and early 40s.

That’s not a massive audience, and everyone is going after them. You can take clients from other firms, but it’s really hard. And if you track your growth, I think you’ll see that the majority of your clients are not switching firms.

That’s why I believe it’s important to add a second segment – validators – to your client offering. For the most part, the validators are not looking for a traditional AUM based service model. They’re looking for cash-based interactions, at least initially, and they have stronger preferences for fee type and fee level. For this reason, I suggest having a service offering that helps you stay profitable with the validator consumer, but allows you to be very flexible to meet their needs.


Marketing and growth is really challenging and today’s environment is super competitive. The growth minded RIA is going to need to focus on more than one consumer type and have multiple services to offer if you want to thrive over the next few decades.

It’s going to be really hard for smaller firms to scale without selling to the validator. More and more firms are going to be competing with the sliver of available delegators, and most offerings (at least at the larger firms) are going to be designed for the delegator. A collaborative, validator-focused service model is much more difficult to scale with existing technology and service platforms.

Smaller firms are going to have to invest more and more and more in order to maintain their autonomy, and in order for owners to be able to protect their asset. As larger and larger firms bring more resources and more services to bear, a larger segment of consumers will be more difficult for smaller firms to compete within if they don’t have very targeted and very thoughtful approaches to service and consumer archetypes.

What questions do you have? How can I help?

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