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5 Problems RIAs Face Organizing Their Back Office

By Charesse Spiller

When RIA firm owners look to streamline their operations, they often encounter problems with their back office. However, when they try to solve for a specific symptom, they’re frustrated because they haven’t fixed the root cause of the problem. That’s a mistake that unnecessarily prolongs their suffering.

Your firm’s back office comprises three core areas that might be the root cause of the problem:

  1. People. The goal is to ensure that every team member understands the importance of their work and how their efforts contribute to the firm’s success. This understanding helps to create a strong team culture in which employees do their job well without letting tasks fall through the cracks.
  2. Processes. Processes support people, ensuring that company standards are defined and met and that everyone is clear on how to execute their role.
  3. Technology. Technology supports people by enhancing their processes, increasing productivity, and improving everyone’s experience. 

You may deal with inefficiencies in any one of these key areas, and taking the time to diagnose exactly what’s going on can help save you time and money. Here are five key problems and solutions that you can implement today.

Problem One: Turnover in Staff

Having staff turnover hurts regardless of your firm size. Often, turnover happens unexpectedly, and it can be difficult to decide how to move forward after losing a team member. As the firm owner, you might find you’re picking up the slack, and the rest of your business suffers.


  1. Process Improvement. If your firm is well organized, you may be able to take this team turnover as an opportunity to improve your processes and reevaluate what your firm truly needs. Take the time to evaluate the tasks you need to fill and whether or not anyone on your team can pick up the slack or if a streamlined process can help to reduce the staffing needed to ensure things run smoothly. Maybe it’s time to add more automation and reduce your staffing needs.

    You might work with an operations professional to help you define the roles needed in your firm and help you find the resources and tools you need to revamp your processes and support your staff. For example, if you lose a lead advisor who also helped the firm manage operations, you may find a fractional chief operating officer (COO), operations consultant, or even a contracted marketing agency can help to fill the gaps at a lower cost. Then, you can focus on training your existing team as a long-term solution.

  2. Cross-training. When someone leaves your company, the transition is easier when other team members are trained to take on their tasks. Cross-training before (or immediately following) team turnover can help you scale your business and cover gaps when someone leaves. Cross-training also empowers team members to take on more and allows you to develop meaningful career paths for each team member (which could also reduce team turnover!).

Problem Two: Burned-Out Operations Manager

If you have a larger firm, you may have a dedicated operations specialist or manager on your team. Often, this role turns into a Jack or Jill of All Trades. They’re doing everything that advisors don’t want to touch, and they burn out.

When you have a solid operations manager on your team, the last thing you want is to let them go. They need to be taken care of, or the firm’s operation has the potential to backslide if they get burned out or leave. The ops manager may disengage, not make decisions with a clear head, and bottleneck the growth of the firm as a result.

Solution: Incorporate a black-out season annually that’s dedicated to operations projects, internal calendar and project management, implementing new systems, collaborating, and taking time to “recharge” as a team. This gives you time to assess pain points in your business, take vacations, and ensure that nobody is running on empty all year long. It also frees up future capacity because you’ve tackled big projects with dedicated focus and time instead of doing double duty for an extended period.

Problem Three: Derailing Delegation

Often, the number one problem advisors and firm owners face is delegating parts of their firm’s process to other team members to free up capacity. 

Poor delegation can lead to errors in account servicing, operations inefficiency, and a lack of consistency in administrative tasks. Advisors who don’t have a clear system to get work off their plates will have trouble growing, and they will burn out over time.


  1. Put a dedicated operations lead in place. Have one person in your firm—a junior advisor, administrator, or a true operations specialist—lead your team’s operations. Leveraging one person in this role can help advisors stay accountable to whatever delegation system they put in place. This person can also help to create streamlined processes, organize other team members, and keep everyone on track.
  2. Train advisors on delegation. All staff may need clarity about how to delegate effectively. Often, if tasks are delegated via email, text, or Slack, they get lost in the shuffle. Creating clear processes for how to delegate is crucial. Put them in your company’s client relationship management or project management tool so that tasks can be assigned to ops teams.
  3. Create systems for role clarity. To delegate effectively, you need a process and a system to support it! For example, you may need to coach your advice team on how to create and launch a workflow, then assign tasks to their operators to keep the ball rolling. 

Putting these three items in place allows your ops and advisory teams to work effectively together because you have repeatable systems in place, and there’s no “re-learning” different styles of work on the team.

Problem Four: Lack of Role Clarity

If you have a large firm, there’s a good chance you have duplicate roles or tasks floating around, creating inefficiencies and a lack of clarity on how everyone functions together.

This can lead to tension between servicing advisors and your back office.

If your advisory teams and ops staff feel overworked, underappreciated, and unclear on who is responsible for what, you can encounter a “blame game” when balls get dropped, and this can create an overall negative workplace culture.


  1. Create a centralized back office. When all your back-office team members are trained on everything your firm needs, they can act as one efficient organism supporting your advice team. Anyone in your back office can support any advisor, and there’s clarity around exactly how to complete tasks to your firm’s unique standard.
  2. Hire a COO. As a firm owner, you may not have time to wear all the hats required of you. A COO can help your firm truly thrive. They monitor your back office, act as a facilitator and integrator, and improve your team dynamic so that everyone can work cohesively.
  3. Create a service calendar. A service calendar outlines exactly how you deliver services to clients and empowers team members by clearly defining who owns what task. There’s no more guessing on who is responsible for each part of the process. From there, you can build workflows to support your process and allow the end-to-end system to run smoothly.

Problem Five: Lack of Experience in Your Operations Team

Raise your hand if you’ve been letting your administrative assistant run all your firm’s operations up until now. Administrative roles are fantastic and often very needed within a firm’s structure. However, your admin is likely untrained when it comes to operations. They’ve learned on the job and done a good job so far, but they don’t have enough experience to make future decisions for the company. When they do make these decisions, you may find that the solutions implemented are not as efficient as they need to be.


  1. Understand the difference between administration and operations. Operations should be focused on building and improving your firm’s systems. They’re optimizing your processes, implementing new technology, and more. Your administrators are executing day-to-day tasks and supporting the business.
  2. Consider hiring for the role. Whether you work with a consultant or contractor or bring someone in-house, you may need to hire for an operations role to get the forward movement you’re looking for. You need someone forward-thinking, tech-savvy, and who acts as a critical thinker.
  3. Opt to train your admin. Several tools on the market allow you to train your admin to level up their ops know-how. If your administrator has the personality and interest to take their career to the next level, this may be a good fit for your firm.

Things to Keep in Mind

Firm owners will usually be able to see or feel a problem within their firm’s operations but may not be able to pinpoint the actual issue. This can be a challenge when trying to fix problems and create a scalable solution for your firm’s back office. My number one piece of advice is to listen to what people on your team—especially your back-office staff—think. Often, they’ll have unique insights into what’s going on and can help you come up with a strategy that solves the frustration you’re feeling and makes their jobs better.

Struggling to develop a smooth back office? Take the time to evaluate what your pain points are, or work with a professional to help you diagnose what’s going on in your business. From there, you can develop a game plan that helps you run a cohesive, innovative business that’s ready to grow and has a fantastic company culture.

Charesse Spiller is the founder of Level Best, a consulting practice specializing in process and operations for financial planners. Level Best works closely with each firm to analyze their current processes, create new systems, and implement them so firms can seamlessly scale their business.

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