It’s All About Trust

Content provided by Robyn Murray, Freelance Writer

Spencer Smalley is one of those guys people tell their secrets to. “I don’t know what it is, but people want to disclose all of it to me,” Smalley said. “They like to tell me everything.”

Whether it’s a trivial fact or an embarrassing personal detail, Smalley has heard it all. People just tend to trust him. That might be, Smalley said, because he trusts them first. He’s open and willing to share, and that prompts others to open up too.

It’s something that’s come naturally to Smalley his whole life, and it includes an ability to listen to people and communicate effectively. Today, Smalley uses those skills to help him in his career – not in counseling, which is where he started out, but in an industry where trust is just as valued.


Smalley grew up in a tiny farming and ranching town of about 1,000 people in eastern Colorado near the Kansas border. “It’s super isolated,” he said.  “It was an hour to the nearest town that had a Walmart, and a two and a half hour drive to the nearest city that had anything beyond that.”

His father, who is now retired, worked in the oil industry for 35 years, and his mother still works at the public health office in town where she has been for more than 30 years. “I lived in the same house; we never moved, and my parents always had the same job,” Smalley said. “The biggest change of my life came when I graduated high school.”

That change was moving away for college. First, Smalley moved to Manhattan, Kansas to attend Manhattan Christian College. Then, after meeting his wife-to-be who lived in Omaha, he enrolled at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, a small city just outside of Omaha. There he studied family counseling with a ministry background, hoping his listening skills would help him help others. But, he soon changed his mind. “I decided pretty quickly I didn’t want to be a counselor,” he said. He imagined an emotionally trying future and didn’t think he could distance himself enough not to become drained by it.

So after graduation, Smalley decided to try something new. He took a job in client services at Pioneer Investments Management. He wasn’t sure whether finance would be a good fit for him, but he realized he had a knack for understanding the industry, and he enjoyed helping others reach their financial goals. “I never had a plan for my finances,” he said. “But, once I realized that it’s just like life — if you have a goal and plans, a path for success laid out in front of you, you really go after it.”

Pioneer taught Smalley everything he needed to know to navigate the financial world, beginning with the basics. “What’s a stock, what’s a bond – that’s as basic as it got,” he said. Smalley learns quickly, and he was able to digest the information fast. Two years later, he passed his Series 65 exam and in 2014, he took a job in internal sales at CLS Investments.

It’s been a great fit. “At CLS, they do what they believe, they take their time, and they stick to their plan in a disciplined way,” he said. “I’m hesitant to do things that just seem flashy or attractive at the time, so that fits my style pretty closely.” Smalley said he enjoys his position in sales partly because it feels like he’s building his own business and he has freedom to achieve his goals.

While the financial industry is far removed from his counseling and ministry background, Smalley believes the lessons he learned in his studies continue to help him in his career today. “I think my ability to listen, to ask the questions that probe into the details, and to see the big picture helps me diagnose a situation and give advice,” he said. “Also, trust is important in this industry. The advisors we work with trust us the same way their clients trust them.”

Smalley is not yet sure where he’d like to end up in the future. He enjoys teaching and coaching people, so he could see himself pursuing a management position or moving into financial advising. His other goal for the future is to have a family. He and his wife have been married eight years, but they were married young – and quickly. They were only dating for seven months before they got engaged, but Smalley said it wasn’t a moment too soon. “I was warned by a lot of people who said it was too soon to be getting married and that it would be really tough,” he said, “But it hasn’t been. We just work through problems and issues really well.”

How do they do it? “We trust each other,” he said, “and we listen.”




How to add efficiency to trading

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Best Practices: Sponsoring an Advisor Conference

Marketing can be expensive and sometimes it is difficult to see the direct benefits, especially if there are upfront costs involved. Northern Lights Distributors, LLC (NLD), understands the potential constraints within a marketing budget and aims to assist you in getting the most from your marketing dollars. There are many marketing options to consider, spanning content creation, public relations, conference participation and sales representative support. These are all key contributors to driving distribution activity. NLD advocates participating in industry conferences to maximize your distribution activity. Sponsoring a financial conference event is a distinctive opportunity to share your story, highlight your competitive edge and meet peers and potential prospects to raise your firm’s profile and brand recognition. While conference sponsorships can generate potential opportunities, they can also be a costly endeavor. Attendance and travel fees, entertainment expenses and booth material costs can all add up quickly. Therefore, it’s important to properly plan for conferences to ensure you have a meaningful and worthwhile experience.


NLD believes there are items to consider before deciding to make an investment in sponsoring a conference. The investment field has a plethora of local, regional and national conferences that provide educational forums for investment managers and clients. Thoroughly research event engagements that speak to your target audience. This will help eliminate conferences that may not be a good investment of time and budget. Additionally, consider speaking with trusted peers and partners for more details or best practice suggestions.



Speaking opportunities are coveted sessions. They allow investment managers to highlight their expertise and provide credibility in front of potential prospects as well as industry peers. Additionally, speaking engagements offer brand awareness and endorsement for your firm and strategy. Most conferences seek speakers who deliver topics that are relevant and impactful to both investment advisors and their clients. If you are interested in delivering a value add presentation, consider acquiring Continuing Education (CE) credit for your session, as CE is a draw for conference attendee participation.

Speaking opportunities may be offered at a higher sponsorship level, so ensure you select the conferences where it makes sense for you to pay such a premium. Should you decide to invest in a speaking sponsorship, maximize this opportunity by driving attendance to your session. Handing out print pieces or paying for push notifications on the conference mobile app is another way to inform your audience of your speaking engagement.


Further maximize your time by sponsoring or cosponsoring a dine-around. Dine-arounds allow you to plan and select the client/prospect invitation list. This dine-around can include individuals in the area, as long as the dine-around location is not at the conference venue or competing with conference events. For example, if the conference is in Chicago, you could consider selecting a nearby Chicago restaurant or venue to host a dine-around opportunity. You should also take advantage of city visits to schedule other meetings before or after an event. Ask yourself, who might you know in the area that could be worthwhile to visit: prospects, current clients, industry partners, etc.? Remember, you don’t want to schedule meetings at the same time as the conference.


Research additional brand awareness opportunities. Events can include, but are not limited to cocktail hour, lunch or dinner, and Wi-Fi for the event. At times, these can be coupled with push notifications for a conference app, or speaking and panel opportunities. Additionally, many conferences provide an attendee list before and after the event. This list is key in preparing for a successful event and follow up.


Conferences vary in size, audience and venue, and are subject to the investment manager’s target audience and marketing budget. If you have a limited marketing budget, you may want to consider one or two events per year. This will assist in providing maximum exposure in a single location and will broaden your sponsorship selections. If your budget allows, consider more local targeted events. It is important to remember, it isn’t the number of events you attend each year, but rather the amount of engagements you commit to within each event.


There are many levels of conference sponsorship, ranging from basic meeting attendance and others that present to a more robust sponsor offering. When researching which events to attend, determine exactly what benefits you will receive for sponsoring a conference. While some events may only provide you a booth, others may provide follow-up engagement opportunities like webinars throughout the year or featuring your white papers on the firm’s website. Your Strategic Relationship Manager will help determine what type of conference and level of sponsorship would best suit your sales and marketing efforts.


Creating a memorable brand begins with your distinct competitive edge. The defining characteristic may be an individual or multiple combination of culture, process and execution. It should magnify your organization’s competitive edge as a differentiator amongst its peers. Consistency is key. Your booth should clearly represent your brand. Work to design an impressive backdrop, pull banners, tablecloths, etc. If you are sponsoring a booth at a conference, obtain booth specifics, such as dimensions, table size for a tablecloth and what type of setup you are allowed to bring (floor or tabletop). Additionally, consider investing in branded trinkets to give away. This could be pens, hand sanitizers, mints, etc. Keep in mind, you are competing with all other booths at the conference. How will you make your booth stand out?


Planning is crucial for amplifying your conference experience. There are several items you can address to maximize your resources before, during and after the event:

  • What are your goals and expectations for the event?
  • Are you leveraging your brand and getting the maximum exposure?
  • Did you send trinkets and promotional materials?
  • Have you sent an email to the attendee list informing them about your sponsorship or additional activities? NLD has prepared a Conference Checklist, complete with items that you can accomplish before, during and after a conference to gain the best possible return for your investment.


Brand awareness is not only built through brand materials, but is projected by the individuals representing your organization at the event. Select a representative who will serve as your brand ambassador. Consider individuals who are outgoing, friendly and are comfortable networking. It is not in your best interest to send individuals who will not participate, and thrive in a conference environment. This can be potentially detrimental to your firm’s reputation. Your representative should exemplify the firm’s core beliefs and can be able to articulate your story to potential investors. He or she should have a clear goal and understand the importance of his or her role in relation to representing the brand.


DISCOVER – Utilize your network to uncover the best conference opportunities that meet your firm goals and needs.

PLAN – Determine the number of conferences you will participate in and what level of sponsorship best suits your firm’s marketing strategy.

PREPARE – Review your conference checklist to help select what will be needed to maximize brand presence and overall conference opportunity success.

ACT – During the conference, amplify your brand, be present, engaged and focused on your goals. This will only further your sales opportunities.




Northern Lights Distributors, LLC, Member FINRA / SIPC


Trading Spotlight: Create Trading Efficiency with Sleeve Strategies

Create trading efficiency with Orion’s Sleeve Strategies. Whether you assign models to 50 accounts or 5, do it faster with Orion.

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Embracing Change and Taking Action

By Alma Piscitello, Executive Vice President, Strategic Advisor Services

As an avid reader with an eclectic library of books, it is difficult to pick a favorite book across all genres.  However, two books stand out as powerful frameworks for doing business: Traction by Gino Wickman and Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink. In my experience, openness to change, coupled with framework, action, and ownership provide a foundation for success, and these two books have had a major influence on how I counsel clients to embrace change today.

Earlier in my career, I greeted change with apprehension as I was uncertain as to the impact it would have to the firm, team, and ultimately me.  Learning to embrace change was not easy until I realized that change was going to happen whether I liked or feared it. I was so focused on how hard change would be, that I was limiting my potential to grow personally and professionally.  I took a dose of reality and decided to have an active mindset and be open to change. This self-actualization led me through a journey that has impacted my career and how I counsel investment manager clients today. I help them focus on creating a framework with actionable opportunities that can enhance business efficiencies.

Investment managers are creative beings that think outside the box, see possibilities, and create opportunities while navigating an ever changing environment. Their external focus on their portfolios may garner success that will lead them to expand their infrastructure to sustain their growth. Before they know it, they are bigger than they imagined and have to take a deeper look on where they’re going and how they can get there. Realizing that this change is needed takes self-reflection, backward and forward business assessment and strategic planning.  Meeting investment managers at this inflection point is my favorite time. This is the heart, the formation of ideas, the layout of framework.  This is the time to discuss vision and execution – not one person owns the execution of the vision. Working with the strengths of people within the organization and with partners to help lay out a clear and common purpose is exhilarating.

Creating a sustainable framework requires taking inventory, asking tough questions, and creating best/worst case scenarios. Do you have the right infrastructure, technology, partners, vehicles, and personnel to propel your business to the next level? Do you know when and where to make tactical investments and the cost benefit of those decisions?  These are all important questions that will help to layout a framework that will propel action.

Working with clients who have recognized and embraced change, and have also laid out a framework is refreshing and makes action planning a rewarding experience. One of my favorite quotes by Pablo Picasso is, “action is the foundational key to all success.” Utilizing this quote as the focal point for the Strategic Advisor Services Team, we co-create action plans with our clients to layout the path that will be taken, measure wins, and address challenges. The team asks pivotal questions in action planning: What does success look like? What is the firm and strategies’ competitive edge? What resources are available or will be invested in? What is the target market and the activity that will be driven to expand the footprint? These questions help formulate a plan by taking stock, working with the end goal in mind, and planning for current and future circumstances. I turn to you, the reader, and ask are you ready to take action? Whether that action is professional or personal, are you ready to put your action plan in motion and own the result?


7224 GFS-3/15/2017



Getting Started with Live Online Chat

In today's Orion Weekly, we'll let you know how to get going with Orion live online chat, why you should stay updated with tech, and more.

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An Alternative Mutual Fund’s Most Unusual Birth: A Case Study in How Gemini Works Alongside Alternative Managers to Achieve Long-Term Goals

Today’s fund administrators are capable of doing much more for investment managers than just assisting with back-office responsibilities. As demonstrated by The Gemini Companies (Gemini), modern “fund administration 2.0” which involves working closely with managers to actively assist with launching, managing, and growing funds.

Recently, Gemini facilitated a rare transaction that enabled a manager to launch an alternative mutual fund without having to create an investment company from scratch. Instead of bringing a new fund to market, the manager saved a great deal of time and money by assuming, with Gemini’s help, the role of investment advisor for an SEC-registered mutual fund that already had an established track record (and a five-star rating from Morningstar).

A Deep-Rooted Partnership

The teams at the investment management firm and Gemini have worked closely together for more than seven years. The management firm’s president served as a partner, executive vice president, and managing director of another alternative mutual fund manager prior to establishing his own shop in 2015. During his tenure at his previous firm, the manager and his colleagues noticed that their sub-advisors’ managed futures strategies performed well during the 2008 financial crisis. They decided they wanted to launch a managed futures mutual fund that incorporated strategies from five high-quality investment managers. At the time, the pain of the financial crisis was fresh, and alternative mutual funds, also known as “liquid alts,” were rare.

“At a time when everyone was gun-shy, Gemini was the only series trust provider which was willing to do what we wanted them to do—create a trend-following program and put it in a mutual fund,” recalls the manager. “We knew that Gemini had been expanding their services to other alternative managers, and they understood the nuances and leveraging requirements of alternatives. Seven, eight, or nine years ago, that was unusual.”

Working together, the industry’s first multi-strategy managed futures mutual fund was launched within the Northern Lights Fund Trust, with additional sales, marketing, and distribution assistance provided by Gemini. Thanks to Gemini—which, among other things, introduced the manager to custodians and independent broker-dealers with which they do business—the fund grew to more than $1 billion in assets under management in just 11 months. “Then, we launched half a dozen other funds in the Northern Lights Fund Trust, and we grew alongside Gemini as they expanded their staff,” says the manager.

‘Have I Got a Fund for You’

The manager founded his own firm in 2015 and describes it as “more of an advisor than a mutual fund manager.” The firm offers financial education, investment management, retirement planning and philanthropic guidance services for wealthy families and entrepreneurs, and builds customized financial solutions to help investors achieve their goals.

In 2016, an opportunity arose for the firm to launch one of its investment models within a mutual fund. A New York-based, SEC-registered investment advisor specializing in risk-managed investing had been acquired by another investment advisor in 2013, but still managed a mutual fund in Gemini’s shared mutual fund trusts. The investment advisor’s parent company decided it no longer wished to pursue the strategy in that fund, so the advisor contacted Gemini and redeemed all the assets under management—approximately $250 million—over the course of a month.

While the assets had been liquidated, the fund itself remained intact, and so was its track record and five-star rating from Morningstar. Andrew Rogers, CEO of The Gemini Companies, contacted the manager who had recently founded his own firm and suggested that his firm apply to become investment advisor to the abandoned fund and amend the fund’s investment strategy to align with one of his firm’s models.

A Transaction that Gemini Understands Well

Prior to reaching out to the manager, Mr. Rogers and his colleagues at Gemini had already helped several other managers assume the role of investment advisor for other existing mutual funds. “A manager may have a great strategy that they want to take to market, but by taking over an existing fund, the manager gains an experienced board, a track record of operations, and the infrastructure behind the scenes that’s already in place,” says Mr. Rogers. While completing regulatory filings and obtaining shareholder approval for this type of deal require patience from managers, they can immediately take advantage of their funds’ existing selling agreements once those processes are complete, enabling them to raise assets faster and decrease expenses for shareholders.

Mr. Rogers points out that creating a fund from scratch can take four to six months in a shared fund trust or another existing trust, and six to nine months in a new trust. However, launching a fund by taking over as investment advisor to an abandoned fund can take just 30 to 90 days.

Gemini: An Engaged Partner

Having worked closely with the manager for many years, Mr. Rogers was confident that the manager and his colleagues could benefit shareholders of the abandoned fund. In addition to offering investors a more diversified alternative investment vehicle, the manager proposed reducing the fund’s management fee from 75 basis points (bps) to 65 bps, while keeping in place the fund’s existing expense ratio cap of 1%.

“When you come in as an investment advisor, you have to do SWOT (strength, weaknesses, opportunity, and threats) analysis and figure out how your strategy measures up from a cost perspective and as a fiduciary to the fund,” says the manager. “This fund went from a single alternative strategy, which was long/short equity, to being a multi-manager alternative mutual fund—with long/short equity accounting for almost 50% of its portfolio. It’s now a more diversified mutual fund with lower costs for investors.”

For the manager, the capability to utilize the abandoned fund’s Gemini-negotiated selling agreements was an attractive attribute. “It’s one thing to launch a fund and put $1 million into it, but to break even you need to have $25 million or more depending on the expense ratio,” he explains. “You need selling agreements with various custodians and a whole host of related line items checked off before you raise money.”

Crossing the Finish Line

After the fund’s board approved the contract, Gemini outsourced the printing and mailing of shareholder prospectuses for the new fund to a solicitation agent, which also supervised the voting. On December 2, 2016, the manager’s firm surpassed the 51% approval threshold among fund shareholders to become the new investment advisor and begin managing the portfolio.

The manager is grateful to Gemini for helping his firm seamlessly manage the process of bringing the new fund to market. “I know the bad things that can happen when you launch a mutual fund, which is why the opportunity to take over a fund that was already launched and had no upfront legal fees associated with it was so attractive,” he said. “I know the people at Gemini, and I know the quality of their work, so I trusted them to guide us through the process, and as expected, their help was invaluable.”

The new fund kept the abandoned fund’s Morningstar category rankings. The fund also remains in the Northern Lights Fund Trust. “For me, there’s no reason to move out of the shared trust—Gemini provides services we need, including ongoing monitoring from an advertising perspective, which is critical because we want to make sure we’re complying with the SEC’s marketing rules,” the manager said.

The manager estimates that his firm saved between $50,000 and $100,000 in startup expenses and at least 90 to 120 days over the traditional fund-launch route, and he says his firm stands to save more time and money over the long term. “The fact that the fund already had several selling agreements in place was crucial because it’s especially hard right now to get a mutual fund on a custodial platform,” notes the manager. “They’re not looking to take on new funds until they figure out how the Department of Labor’s proposed Fiduciary Rule is going to affect them, so to become an advisor to a product that’s already on those platforms is very important to our future success.”

Fund Administration 2.0

Gemini did for the manager what it has done for many other clients in the past—act as an engaged partner to help launch, manage and grow a fund. “As more managers learn about the process of taking over an existing fund, and the advantages of entering the mutual fund market this way, there may be more managers in our trusts who would be willing to do what this manager has done,” says Mr. Rogers. “If and when they are, we’ll be ready to deploy Gemini’s engaged teams to make sure everything is executed properly.”

7222 GFS-3/15/2017



2017 Investment Themes

Learn more about CLS’s 2017 Investment Themes with CLS Chief Investment Officer, Rusty Vanneman, CFA, CMT.


3 Ways Outdated Advisor Technology Is Hurting Your Firm

You aren’t still running Windows 95 at home (hopefully), so why would you run technology built for the ’90s in your advisor practice? Staying relevant with your technology is as important as being modern in your marketing, client outreach, and how you operate with best practices internally. The perils of running outdated advisor technology can impact areas of your business you can’t even see. Here are the top three reasons you need to stay modern in your approach to advisor technology. 1. Security The most important reason to stay up-to-date with your technology is security. In the advisor technology industry, you’re often working between software that is locally installed on your computer desktop and technology delivered through a browser. You may know that second type better as a cloud-based app. Most desktop-based software does not include multi-factor authentication. Some might not require a sign-in when it boots up at all. This type of software architecture is a problem because anyone with access to the physical machine can log in and access the data it stores. Orion and other modern advisor technology apps have built a better way to secure your data. We use multi-factor authentication, which requires two confirmation points,...

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Time for a Rebrand?

By Megan Boulter, Marketing Coordinator, NorthStar Financial Services, LLC

The doctor is in and it’s time for your brand’s marketing checkup! Over time, your company will evolve and change. External factors may have made an impact on your industry, or, perhaps it is just time for a refresh. It is important to ask ourselves questions to assess where we stand with our marketing. Are you still targeting the same market as you were last year? How has your company changed in the past three years? Do your marketing efforts reflect your company’s vision? You may need to revisit your marketing and branding efforts to make sure they still align with your company’s overall strategy. We have come up with some questions to help you assess where you are and where you need to be.


It’s time to ask some of those tough questions; have we accomplished our marketing goals? Have we generated the results that we were aiming for? It’s time to take a good look at the accomplishments as well as the faults in your company’s marketing efforts.

It’s important to think about how your brand is portrayed, both internally and externally. Miscommunication may have dimmed trust in the company or turned away possible clients. Broken promises reflect poorly on the company’s values, culture, and reputation. Companies who don’t portray their core strengths well, may be hindering new clients from coming on board. You must be able to pinpoint and successfully communicate what makes your company stand out, and be able to drive effective marketing efforts highlighting those strengths. Once you have assessed your marketing efforts, you can then move onto fixing any shortcomings as well as continue with the successful marketing efforts.


When you are going through your brand’s marketing checkup, it is important to re-examine your strategic business plan as well. Has your company’s purpose, goals, or story transformed over time? Have your clients’ buying patterns or needs changed? Are you targeting a more specific market now? Do your marketing materials reflect those changes? What new materials do you require to accommodate changes and what existing materials do you need to modify?

Businesses evolve and that is the nature of the market. Product and business expansions, leadership changes, or periods of great growth or decline are just some examples of situations that may cause a marketing disconnect. Consistent marketing will build loyal customers. Sending a survey and getting feedback from clients is a great way to gauge external brand perception.


One of the most effective ways to prepare for the future is to evaluate how the industry is evolving. Where is your company in terms of trends, competition, technology, product, and service offerings? Pinpoint your competitive edge and highlight how your firm differs from the crowd. Let clients know about business and marketing changes that show you are being proactive and staying ahead of the curve.


Where is your brand today and where do you want it to be in the future? After you have completed a thorough and comprehensive marketing assessment, you will have a much better understanding of what the next steps look like. List your long-and short-term business goals and steer your marketing initiatives toward achieving those goals.  Allocate resources accordingly. Review materials and marketing initiatives. Get feedback from clients and partners to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. Set specific goals, complete with the person or team to champion each initiative and set realistic target dates. You must be clear about expectations. Finalize your new marketing plan and stick to it.