Imagine you’re sitting down with a potential new client for the initial discovery meeting. What do you see sitting across from you?

Unfortunately, many advisors see a “prospect,” “dollar signs,” or perhaps “a million-dollar account.” The philosopher Martin Buber called this an “I-It Relationship,” in which one person objectifies the other.

On today’s show, Ross Levin explains the importance of “I-You” relationships, how to master the “slow things,” and the story behind building one of the industry’s most iconic firms.

Ross Levin is the CEO and Founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management, which is an RIA based in Minnesota, with approximately $2 billion in assets under management. Ross was the first recipient of the Financial Planning Association’s Heart of Financial Planning Award, and the inaugural recipient of Financial Planning Magazine’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He is truly an icon in our industry.

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5 Insights from Ross Levin on Building an Iconic RIA

1. The means (discovery) are more important than the end (a second meeting).

“I think one of the things that we unconsciously do in our industry is we make people into objects in the form of prospects or clients. As a result, what ends up happening is the conversation is tilted from an authentic conversation into one that is hoping to lead to an end. The way we try to operate is, even in the first meeting, when we’re meeting with someone and just trying to understand who they are and what their motivations are, our objective is to make sure that they find the right spot for them. Sometimes it’s us and sometimes it’s not.”

2. Keep asking questions until you understand “Why.” 

“We want to understand all the different Whys that people come to us with. It’s not just saying, ‘I want to have two million dollars when I retire.’ It’s, ‘What does two million dollars represent to you? What will that do for you? What do you think that’s going to provide for you?’ Then we start asking them questions about, ‘What was it that brought you here? What are you thinking about? What are the things that you have experienced around money that you feel aren’t productive? What are the things where money has gotten in the way for you?’”

3. Be good at the “fast things …” 

Ross Levin: Focusing on the slow things helps advisors understand their clients’ Whys.

“We’re now in a situation where people can look at their phone and get an update on their investment performance every day, so it shows what their returns are, what each category’s done, all those kind of things. Whether that’s good or bad is irrelevant. It’s something that a certain subset of clients definitely want to be able to see, so you have to be fast at that.”

4. … but focus your practice on the “slow things” that add real value. 

“The slow things are the conversations and the life changes, and being on the front end of dealing with people through their day-to-day existence and through all the major things that go on in their life. That, to me, is something that is really important, because that’s the part that technology, I don’t believe, can overcome.”

5. Doing what’s good for your clients will be good for your business. 

“We have never focused on assets under management as the metric for success. What we have focused on is doing the right thing, in the right way, at the right time, with the belief that we are going to get rewarded for it.”


– Accredited Investors Wealth Management Visit Ross and his team online.

– “The Pocket Thomas Merton” Ross says this is “a fantastic book for understanding self, and I really think that understanding yourself is really important in helping understand others.”

– Martin Buber’s I-It, I-You philosophy.

– Read Ross’s consumer-facing column in The StarTribune.

– Read Ross’s advisor-facing column in Financial Advisor Magazine.

– Values Clarification Toolkit Click here to download this FREE tool and start living your values.

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