Email FacebookTwitterMenu burgerClose thin

A Guide to Operations for an RIA


Growing a successful practice can test your ability to manage all the demands competing for your time and attention. You’re meeting with clients, marketing your firm and managing a seemingly endless list of back-office tasks. Developing strategies and systems for managing RIA operations can help you scale more efficiently while maximizing your resources.

Ready to grow your client base? SmartAsset AMP helps you connect with qualified leads.

Scope of Operations for an RIA

RIA operations is a broad term that encompasses all the activities an advisory firm engages in on a day-to-day basis to provide value to its clients. The way a firm approaches RIA operations management can affect its growth potential and ability to attract new clients while retaining existing ones.

An RIA’s operating plan typically spans several key areas of focus:

  • Compliance
  • Technology
  • Financial planning
  • Asset management
  • Front-office and back-office activities
  • Marketing

Certain operational tasks are more time and labor-intensive than others, but all are important for fueling growth. When your firm has a clearly defined set of operating procedures, it’s better positioned to meet the needs of clients while controlling costs and generating higher revenues.

Managing RIA Operations Effectively

Operational systems should be designed to meet the needs of an RIA based on the number of clients it serves and its assets under management. Technology, outsourcing, automation and artificial intelligence can be instrumental in streamlining operations and ensuring that the capabilities of your systems align with your firm’s size.

Here’s a closer look at what’s included in RIA operations.


Compliance with federal and state regulations is a critical component of running and growing an RIA. Some of the most important compliance tasks you’re responsible for include:

  • Developing a code of ethics
  • Creating written policies and procedures
  • Submitting proper documentation to the SEC and updating those records as required
  • Providing required disclosures to clients
  • Maintaining proper records
  • Implementing cybersecurity measures

A chief compliance officer (CCO) can oversee these tasks to ensure your firm is adhering to all necessary rules and regulations. Whether you need to hire a CCO or handle this role yourself can depend on your firm’s size.

Smaller and mid-sized firms with AUM less than $500 million may consider having someone take on CCO duties in-house, with the help of RIA compliance software. Once firms reach the $500 million AUM mark, it may be time to hire someone to assume the CCO role on a full-time basis.


A registered investment advisor researching technology solutions for RIA operations.

RIA firms can leverage technology in diverse ways to further growth. Some of the most common software solutions for RIAs include:

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software
  • Client communication management (CCM) software
  • Financial planning software
  • Accounting and payroll software
  • File-sharing and file-transfer software
  • Document management software
  • Client portal or dashboard software
  • Investment management software

Tech can also assist with marketing and promoting your firm. For example, you might use automated scheduling tools to publish content on your firm’s website or social media platforms. If you’re building an email list, you might use AI to draft newsletter content or use automation tools to schedule and send marketing emails to clients or prospects.

When deciding how to invest in technology, you do want to ask yourself this question: What value does it add?

The best RIA software programs are designed to increase efficiency and productivity while saving you time. If your firm is smaller and you have a limited budget, consider which solutions address your biggest RIA operations needs now. As your firm grows, you can revisit your tech stack to see what needs to be added or removed to accommodate your expanding client base.

Financial Planning

Financial planning is central to what you do as an advisor. RIA operations in this area can include:

  • Financial plan creation and development
  • Setting up access to client portals or dashboards
  • Running simulations or using visualizer tools to help clients understand potential outcomes
  • Performance reporting
  • Integration with your CRM software

Financial planning software can help you manage those tasks as you scale. The advantage of utilizing financial planning software is that you don’t need to have a minimum AUM or cater exclusively to high-net-worth clients to make them work for you.

Asset Management

Asset management has its own category within RIA operations and deals primarily with:

  • Investment selection
  • Portfolio construction
  • Rebalancing and tax loss harvesting
  • Executing trades

This is another area where software can make the task of managing client assets easier. So, when do you need this type of software to manage operations?

If you’re starting an RIA with no AUM, there may be no immediate need. But if you’re going independent and bringing your book of business with you, then this may be something you’re better off investing in sooner rather than later.

Front and Back Office

The front office is the client-facing side of your business, while the back office is everything that happens behind the scenes to keep your firm running smoothly.

The amount of time and energy that goes into managing front-office or back-office operations largely depends on the number of clients you have and the size of your team. Both are important for growth, but being overwhelmed on the back end can affect your ability to serve clients on the front end.

Some of the strategies you might consider to manage operations in these areas include:

  • Moving to a paperless, software-driven client onboarding process
  • Using scheduling tools to keep track of client appointments
  • Offering alternatives to in-person meetings, such as phone calls or video chats
  • Automating the client billing process
  • Automating employee payroll and accounting
  • Developing standardized training procedures to ensure that new team members fully understand how your firm operates
  • Using digital tools to centralize team communications and simplify collaboration

These are things you can do yourself. As your firm expands, you may consider working with an RIA back-office solutions provider to take some of the most tedious or time-consuming activities off your plate.


If you’re trying to grow your RIA, you’ll need to dedicate time to promotions. Some of the marketing activities you might engage in as part of your operations include:

  • Website development
  • Branding
  • Email marketing
  • Direct mail marketing
  • Social media promotions
  • PR outreach
  • Digital ads
  • Local advertising

Developing an ideal client persona can help you tailor your marketing plan so that your time and budget don’t go to waste.

If you’re not sure where to focus your energies, you might consider partnering with an automated marketing platform like SmartAsset AMP. Outsourcing some of your marketing activities can make it easier to connect with qualified leads and nurture relationships, without taking time away from other areas of focus as you scale.

Working With an RIA Operations Provider

As your firm continues to grow, you may decide that it makes sense to hand over the reins to a third party. Working with a company that specializes in RIA operations management can leave you free to focus on core growth activities, such as marketing and promotions, recruiting new talent and, of course, serving your clients.

A good operations provider should be able to:

  • Identify and prioritize your most pressing operational needs
  • Pinpoint blind spots or gaps in your operational plan that need to be addressed
  • Incorporate right-fit technology solutions into your operations system
  • Provide superior support and service to you and the members of your team
  • Ensure that your firm is operating compliantly at all times

When comparing RIA operations, partners consider the scope of services offered, the types of software and tech solutions offered, and the cost.

Bottom Line

Managing your RIA operations can help you better serve your clients.

Taking your firm to the next level requires careful planning and execution to reach your goals. Building a solid infrastructure from day one can help keep your RIA operations on track.

Tips for Growing Your Advisory Business

  • How you market your advisory firm can depend on the type of clients you’re trying to reach and the promotional channels they’re most likely to have access to. If you’re looking for a streamlined solution to marketing challenges, SmartAsset AMP can help. This advisor marketing platform is designed to help you find the right leads for your business, without tying up valuable hours of your day. Get started today.
  • If you’re planning to start an RIA, you’ll need to answer some key questions first. For instance, will you need to register with the SEC, or can you register with state authorities based on your AUM? If you’re starting from scratch with zero clients and AUM, how will you go about finding clients to work with? How much will you need to spend to get your RIA off the ground? The more planning you do beforehand, the easier it may be to launch and grow your firm.

Photo credit: © Picture Company, © Vorona, ©