RIA Organic Growth Series, Part 1: Brighton Jones Shares its Organic Growth Formula

RIA Organic Growth Series Part 1

Anemic organic growth is the topic of so many industry conversations today—but not this one. In today’s slow-mo growth environment, one wealth firm is pulling off double-digit organic growth. In an amazingly open and honest discussion, two leaders at Brighton Jones shared with me its methods and metrics for achieving organic growth that’s turning heads.

Brighton Jones is one of the fastest-growing RIA businesses in the country (according to Citywire RIA), with $10 billion in AUM and $21 billion in AUA. The firm was started in Seattle 23 years ago by two tax professionals who saw a better way to deliver for clients across their balance sheets, coining the term “Personal CFO.” Their mission is to help clients, colleagues, and the global community live a richer life.

Today, the firm’s 250 full-time employees serve 6,000 households in 18 offices across the country, with a goal to expand to 20 to 30 markets in the next few years. The firm is 100% owned by employees, 40% of whom are partners.

Here’s what’s incredible: Brighton Jones has grown without any acquisitions or outside capital—unheard of for a firm its size. All growth has come organically, one client and one employee at a time.

Recently, I spoke to Carley Dillon, chief client experience officer, and Scott Leber, chief strategy officer. They showed stunning generosity in openly sharing their methods and insights to help other businesses grow. Carley and Scott described a firm that measures everything that matters, and follows through with clarity and incredible discipline.

View revenue as the metric of choice

Brighton Jones sets growth targets by revenue. Historically, the firm aims for 14-17% growth year-over-year based on starting revenue. It’s going into 2024 with roughly $70 million in revenue, making the current growth target 16% or approximately $10.5 million. That translates to gaining 500 new families to reach their target. You can’t get a clearer, more actionable goal than that.

The industry obsesses over AUM or AUA. But as Scott points out, a business pays people on revenues, not assets. At the end of the day, it’s revenue that determines compensation opportunities and drives future growth.

As a marketer, I’m completely aligned with this approach. It’s easy to drop down from revenue to see profitability. And revenue targets make the perfect launchpad for planning.

Embrace top-to-bottom financial transparency

Speaking from experience as a business owner and someone who works with leading firms across the country, I’ve learned it’s not enough to just put a bogey out there. If there’s no intentionality behind it—culturally, operationally, and from a people perspective—you can’t hit the bogey with any level of confidence and predictability.

Brighton Jones ties revenue growth targets directly back to individual employees. The firm runs on a highly disciplined, transparent financial model. Everyone can see the percentage of revenue that goes to people, overhead, profitability, and new investments. Every employee can answer the question: why does revenue growth matter to me? They know it funds their raises, adds headcount, and creates new opportunities in their careers.

Most businesses gatekeep these discussions at the C level. At Brighton Jones, they cascade through the whole firm. Each team leader can explain the implications of growing at 2% instead of 12% or 20%. Employees are encouraged to act as their own CEOs with personal responsibility for driving growth, and every quarter, they hold one-on-one meetings to review their progress along the path to ownership. Everyone understands what they’re contributing and what they get in return.

Demand accountability for individual business plans

Annual planning launches in May of the prior year. It begins with a vision—the firm’s current initiative called “Drive to ’25.” John Jones actually wrote a letter to the firm from the perspective of his future self, looking back on their successes. “Drive to ‘25” lets everyone know what they’re marching toward.

The next step is to divvy up ownership of four different areas of responsibility: getting clients, keeping clients, getting people, and keeping people. They call this framework their “Winning Formula.”

Finally, every individual gets a personal business plan in an Excel document that that populates a dashboard with real-time reporting.

Brighton Jones has a democratized structure with a nationwide team of local teams, each headed by experienced CFP® professionals. To keep everyone on track, teams get color-coded health checks showing progress against the “Winning Formula,” plus access to support from C-suite leaders as well as peers.

Measure and operationalize trust

Brighton Jones wants to track every metric that matters—no matter how difficult it is to measure. For example, trust is a core pillar of the business, but a very subjective concept. To track it, the firm uses a trust formula:

Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy

Every possible variable is measured in surveys. Are we reliable? Do we have a good relationship? Insights around their trust score yield product development and service enhancement opportunities they wouldn’t have found otherwise.

Look, I believe every advisor fundamentally cares about their clients, formula or not. This is about more than that. It’s about operationalizing all the things that are easy to say, but difficult to implement, and doing it at an enterprise level to drive impressive business growth.

Break down growth goals to granular and achievable targets

Brighton Jones breaks its 16% annual revenue growth target down into channels, each supporting the goal like legs on a stool.

  1. Client referrals account for around 6 percentage points, or 40% of total growth. Good service generates its own referrals, but the firm is also very intentional about seeking them.
  2. Self-generated growth comes next, contributing around 4 percentage points. Senior leadership goes out into the community, serving on nonprofit boards, planting seeds, and telling the story of Brighton Jones.
  3. Digital has grown from net zero clients to $1 million in new revenue. It’s the lowest-cost channel and contributes around 2.5 percentage points.
  4. A Fidelity referral program contributes about as much as digital.

Next come COIs and other programs. The firm is also building a new channel, a sub-brand to serve investors who don’t currently fit under the umbrella.

Goals get very granular. A 16% growth target translates to 500 new families. That number gets broken down by team, then by branch, then by employee. Each branch knows how many new clients it needs. Each member knows how many opportunities to contact to get those clients.

That’s how a business plan drives results.

It’s rare to find a firm of Brighton Jones’s size with both a Chief Strategy Officer and a Chief Client Experience Officer. But as I’ve said before, it’s one thing to proclaim your ideals. It’s quite another to operationalize them. Brighton Jones isn’t afraid to put names next to its goals. Scott is always asking how today’s decisions impact the firm five years hence. Carley works to make sure client feedback drives new metrics, standards, and products.

Having a vision is great. Making it someone’s job is what moves the business forward.

Take an expansive view of digital marketing

It’s validating to see a top growth firm like Brighton Jones embrace digital marketing as core to their business. First they hired John Dougherty, who managed the global launch of Microsoft XP, to bolster their marketing expertise. Then they built a 12-person in-house digital agency, with separate teams for marketing ops, pay-per-click, creative and digital.

There’s a reason why Brighton Jones was willing to invest so heavily in digital. Some other firms pull back on digital spend if they don’t see an immediate ROI. Brighton Jones understands that digital plays two different roles. Yes, it’s a standalone channel bringing in 70-80 clients a year. But it’s also a catalyst for every channel, fueling faster growth. When their writer produces stories about complex compensation structures at Nike, that content feeds the client experience and adds to their credibility.

Going forward, the firm is investing in a two-sided client and advisor app called Be WELLthy, aiming to elevate its portal based on client feedback. They know their digital competition isn’t other RIAs. It’s Nike, Target, and all the other companies that trained consumers to expect a bespoke digital experience. The firm is also investing heavily in predictive AI to elevate service, acquire clients that mirror their best current clients, and identify accounts at risk.

A wealth of insights for the taking

I was beyond impressed with Carley and Scott during my conversation. Brighton Jones is an industry leader in so many ways. Yet they were incredibly open about the methods and metrics behind their amazing growth trajectory. We talked about aligning strategy to vision and values, operationalizing it across the firm, incorporating client feedback, and so much more. The firm has made a real commitment to innovation and positive change for everyone who matters to them, and its drive to growth is backed by serious organizational discipline. The Brighton Jones story has lessons for everyone.

If this conversation gets you fired up about accelerating your own firm’s growth, send me an email and we’ll talk about applying some of these lessons to your own business.


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