Measurements That Matter: 2X Assets with 5+ People

Organic growth is dead, they say. So how did one South Dakota bank double its wealth management business in 8 years without a single acquisition?

Welcome to the third installment of our organic growth series. This time, I’m very excited to share insights from my conversation with Adam Cox, Executive Vice President and Chief Wealth Management Officer at the First National Bank (FNB) in Sioux Falls. Adam is also host of the popular “Common Sense on the Prairie” podcast, a natural marketer, and someone I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a long time.

Personal trusts were once the bank’s bread and butter. But today FNB brings in at least one new wealth management account every day. I wanted to find out the secret of this incredible transformation.


Adam Cox’s Formula for 2X Growth

  • Great corporate brand married with strong individual brands
  • Good people who care
  • Products and services people value and pay for
  • Ecosystem to generate as many leads as possible, including referrals

Get Your House in Order First  

Building a growth juggernaut took Adam 8 years—but he spent the first 4 simply laying the groundwork. He felt the business wasn’t ready to accept growth, so his team set out to review and optimize every process in the department. It conducted internal focus group to develop best practices, rewrote a 90-page process and policy manual, and trained and retrained staff to maximize efficiency. He refocused on activities that offered real rewards, and exited lines of business that didn’t fit, including a dangling brokerage that competed for internal referrals.

Adam picked the right place to start. Marketing doesn’t fix broken businesses. It makes them worse—as I’ve witnessed many times—by driving more qualified leads through the door without the processes, people, procedures, or operational ability to service them.

Give Clients What They Value

Adam saw that clients aren’t looking for advisors who only run money anymore. So he expanded. Now the bank’s wealth management offering includes a full continuum of services:

  • Financial planning
  • Tax planning
  • A small account solution
  • Ultra high net worth services, which can be very profitable

If you’re one of their targets, you can find dedicated products and people just for you.

Clean Up Your Brand  

I talk to many businesses in the ultra high net worth space. Many cringe at the idea of diluting their brand with a small account solution, no matter how much they need younger clients. Some start a sub-brand. Adam took a different approach.

He doesn’t feel his clients hire a corporate brand as much as they hire the people who work inside it. Metro Sioux Falls has a population of less than 300,000. It also has over 100 trust companies, plus wire houses, retail brokerages, RIAs, and insurance companies. To stand out, he relies on his people, leveraging the corporate brand to elevate personal brands.

Adam points out, wirehouses are also built on relationships, but they’re too afraid to let advisors off the leash to market themselves, or even to post on social media. Adam believes the opposite – advisors need to be free to communicate and connect in ways that feel right to them. He knows the risk: when you bet your growth trajectory on people, you had better know how to keep them. But Adam says the alternative risk is worse—to hire people who can’t grow your business and just rely on corporate branding to fill their pipeline.

To keep branding cohesive, Adam used the corporate brand to support advisors who market themselves—well-trained, dedicated teams offering targeted solutions working under a corporate brand that inspires trust.

Diversify Your Growth Channels

Once the internal ecosystem is ready, it’s time to go public. Many advisors rely entirely on a dwindling supply of referrals.  Adam saw the need to diversify growth channels. After all, consumer preferences change. Younger investors want new and different things. You have to be nimble enough to adapt. Today, growth is nourished by five channels:

  1. Digital marketing, including Adam’s podcast
  2. Bank referrals, which increased after Adam strengthened relationships with bank partners
  3. COIs, which can be effective as long as you don’t entirely on someone else to grow your business
  4. Personal spheres of influence, powerful forces in a bank recognized as an incredible asset to the community
  5. Client referrals, now rising again

The Power of the Podcast

Adam started podcasting 4 years ago, after he found himself yelling at a TV commercial for spouting terrible financial advice. He started by talking about technical topics, but his wife found that uninspiring. She suggested if he loosened up, he might enjoy himself more. So his wife came on the show. They talked about their money journey together, and opened up about their struggles with student loan debt. This is when the podcast really took off. The podcast still features interviews with experts, it makes its biggest impact when real people speak with real emotion about money.

Do I even need to say it? Adam is crushing the New Skool approach: speaking with true authenticity and connecting with clients on a human level first.

How Podcasting Changes Conversations

No clients are marching into the wealth management department looking to hear about investment performance against benchmarks anymore. First, they want to have real conversations about hopes, fears, and family experiences with money. Adam’s deems the podcast a huge success—but it does have a few “scary” business implications, especially for human capital:

  • The wealth industry was originally built by salespeople dialing for dollars. Now it needs to hire people with a service mindset.
  • Wealth professionals need to be equipped to have meaningful conversations. They were trained as lawyers, CPAs, and investment advisors. Nobody ever taught them what to do when a couple calls on a speaker phone in the middle of an argument.
  • A lot of introverts need to become growth minded—and fast.

That kind of change requires coaching and education. FNB has created an incredible internal training program that takes the team right back to foundational questions—Why do we have to grow? What value can we add to our clients? What makes them want to keep us?—and builds them back up from there.

Building Out the FNB Cinematic Universe

The podcast feeds a whole digital marketing ecosystem, providing a stream of fresh audio and video content to share on social media. Clips are also included in quarterly email blasts along with curated third-party tidbits like charts and Journal articles.

But Adam didn’t want digital marketing to hinge on a single person, from a business continuity perspective. His team also joins in to write monthly blogs and create videos spotlighting other names and faces.

The Revenge of Referrals

Five years ago, the number of referrals was negligible. Last year, they accounted for over 50% of new accounts. How did that happen?

I want to point out, FNB is really defying gravity here. At Ficomm, many of our clients come to us because the referral stream they’ve always relied on is drying up.  Soon we’ll be releasing some proprietary research suggesting each generation is less likely to seek referrals when choosing an advisor than the generation before it.  Why is Adam seeing more referral income, not less?

Ironically, referrals are growing precisely because the bank developed its non-referral channels. Adam’s team does content really well. Emotionally, when clients see that content, it confirms their buying decision and gets them invested in the team. On a practical level, it offers something to share online, and gives them something to say when they talk to their friends.

Small Spend, Big Payback

The theme of this series is “Metrics That Matter,” so it seems appropriate to point out Adam and his team doubled assets under management and administration with only 5 additional staffers. You don’t need a huge budget to make a huge impact. You need just enough.

Adam says the key was figuring out their ideal client first, which he worked on with FiComm. Then he built his whole ecosystem around that specific target, so it functions synergistically to produce leads and referrals. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Adam is a natural marketer with a strong growth mindset. But, as Adam says, if a trust department at a community bank in Sioux Falls can do it, anyone can.

Speaking of Adam’s growth mindset, there’s a particularly strong motivation behind it.

The Giant Math Problem No One Talks About

Adam lives in a constant state of urgency. Because he’s seen the numbers.

The industry is growing 3% a year. Expenses are growing 7% or more. Adam figures another 5% disappears through distributions due to decumulation or death. That puts a firm 12% in the hole at the start of every year, just to get even. Double-digit growth is now table stakes simply to maintain profitability.

To hit those numbers, firms have to do very innovative things, in a very diversified way. There isn’t a margin for error big enough to allow one failure to jeopardize the entire business.

Inorganic growth wasn’t the answer for Adam, even if it grabs all the headlines. He says buying growth made more sense a few years ago, but has since become very expensive. Also, the best matchups have already been made. Now, people have started cobbling together firms that couldn’t grow on their own. How are they going to grow together?

As Adam says, if inorganic growth works for you, great. But you also have to grow organically, because the math is going to force you to do it.

I couldn’t put it any better.

If He Can Do It, You Can, Too.

For a nice, humble introvert from Sioux Falls, Adam is an incredible inspiration. It’s amazing to see the growth his team has achieved. When you talk to him, he makes the entire process seem so accessible. He loves to help others and share his passion for marketing. You can look him up on LinkedIn if you have a question.

Adam’s story maps out a clear path for organic growth. Wherever you are along your journey, you can reach out to FiComm whenever you need a guide, a sounding board, or even a boost of confidence. We know you can do it, too.

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