Top Regional Fee-Only RIAs 2023

Local Heroes

InvestmentNews celebrates the best fee-only RIAs from the four regions across the US. The 100 winners are thriving in their respective areas by ensuring their clients experience exemplary service. Through a combination of expertise, personalized attention, and a client-first mentality, they have established themselves as trusted partners in guiding individuals and families toward financial success.

Prowell Financial Management
AUM: $6,407,099,280
HQ: Exton, Pennsylvania

The key to the firm’s success is that it’s the same as its clients.

One of only four members of staff, Courtney Kauffman, says, “We primarily work with family-owned businesses, and we are a family-owned business as well.”

Prowell was founded by Kauffman’s father, Mark, over three decades ago.

She says, “We understand families; we get the difficulty of managing family relationships while running a company because that’s not always the easiest thing in the world. We bring a sense of comfort to our clients.”

Testament to this is that three generations of the same family work with Prowell. This is driven by the firm’s commitment to its clients, which is again reinforced by its understanding of being a family operation.

Kauffman says, “We want to be the number one phone call, no matter what goes wrong. As it stands, we are usually the number one phone call from early in the morning till late at night, and we make sure whatever they need gets done.”

Part of Prowell’s ability to be so effective and build trust with its clients lies in how it operates internally. With such a small team, there is no margin for not being perfectly aligned.

“The chemistry in our office is one of the most important things you will find because we are talking constantly, even when one of us is remote,” says Kauffman. “We have a Zoom room, and I’m pretty much up on that screen all day long when I might not be in the office. We work very closely.”

Experts in limitation

Part of Prowell being such a trusted ally of its clients is its awareness of its limitations. Often, it’s not because the firm can’t do something but because it might have someone who can do it better.

“Part of being honest, transparent, and open is giving the best where you can and finding outside help where maybe you can’t,” Kauffman says. “We’ve made sure that we have surrounded ourselves with amazing professionals in the field, whether that’s legal work, accounting, or whatever a high-net-worth family would need, so that any recommendation we give, we truly believe in.”

However, knowing where its boundaries lie is also a strength. It enables Prowell to be dedicated to ensuring its clients know they will be given priority and every matter will be handled with care.

Kauffman, who has both CFP and CAP designations, says, “While they might be a family, we’re able to look at everyone as an individual and keep private what they need to keep private. That’s why we bring a lot of trust to our clients, and that shows in the ongoing relationships we have. When you pick up the phone, you can call any of our cell phones day or night, and we’ll be there; they know who we are.”

This even extends to the team attending weddings and parties for clients, proving the bond exceeds a purely transactional one. It all points to why clients stay with the firm.

“Sometimes, if you call a larger firm, you’ve got no idea who is going to answer the phone. It’s amusing when we answer all our compliance-type questions and they’re like, ‘How often do you speak to your clients?’ I say to them, ‘Every week and some every day, to the point where I have their phone number memorized because we talk so much.’”

Being able to be so hands-on is one reason why Prowell hasn’t grown in terms of its team. The firm’s priority is offering the best service.

“The main importance for us is delivering this quality of work for our clients, and that’s number one,” Kauffman says. “So growth can’t happen unless we know that we can still bring that level of detail to each one of our clients because I never want it to be that someone calls me and I’m not answering or at least calling them back within 30 minutes.”

Illustrating how deep that commitment is, Kauffman ponders the choice between growing the firm and having to sacrifice the bespoke service it currently offers.

“If it’s, you don’t grow and you stay here, or it’s, you get really big, but 10 percent of your clients are very disappointed with the work – the 10 percent of clients being disappointed is what would keep me up at night.”


Planned succession

Being a centralized operation and dealing with new family generations is a challenge. Again, Kauffman can leverage her own experience in response. With her father being the firm’s founder, she knows what it’s like to mix business and family.

She says, “It can be stressful for the second generation coming in, and they have their own financial goals based on their morals and beliefs, and they might not want to talk to their mom and dad’s financial advisor.

“It’s helpful to have myself or another member of the team as more of a peer advisor that they can be more open with. I think that adds some of the glue and makes it easier for them because I understand that it can be intimidating when you’re first learning about finances, especially with your parents’ higher net worth.”

There is also a sensitivity to going beyond the first generation. The firm tailors its support and advice to be mindful of this.

Kauffman says, “These people spend their whole lives building these businesses, and that’s their legacy, and then they’re turning their financial futures over to us. We have to think about how we cannot only take it on for them but also for their kids and grandchildren; it’s a very vulnerable thing.”

With this uppermost in its client dealings, Prowell preempts any issues that may arise so that it has a ready-made solution to present.

“As a team, we have meetings all the time on what we could do, and I think a lot about it,” says Kauffman. “We try to come up with the next thing that our clients will need because we can see what’s coming by talking to their attorneys or accountants. We’re always trying to predict what the next need will be and get on top of it before it actually becomes a need.”

Recognition has flowed to Prowell for being so proactive, and a single standout fact encompasses how effective the firm has been.

“We’ve never done any type of marketing,” says Kauffman. “We’ve got to where we are by always finding what fits the needs of the client.”