What’s in a firm name (or rename)?

Advisers take unique routes to find a meaningful name to carry through the ages

Dec 18, 2013 @ 11:30 am

By Liz Skinner

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Just as parents may agonize over naming their newborn, financial advisers often labor over what to call their new business.

A quarter century ago, Grant Rawdin struggled with what to name the investment advisory firm he was starting out of the tax and business practice he established at a venerable Philadelphia law firm.

Mr. Rawdin wanted a name that conjured up trust and family, but he didn’t want the firm named after himself because it wasn’t only his company.

“One of the hardest things in starting up the business was finding a name that evoked a family feel,” said Mr. Rawdin, chief executive of Wescott Financial Advisory Group.

In the end, Mr. Rawdin came across the name Wescott during his search, and for him it aroused a trusted, secure image — and he went with it. Twenty-six years later it’s still working, he said.

The firm has since added two 1800s-era portraits of a distinguished-looking man and woman to the walls of its work room, and the staff fondly refer to them as The Wescotts, Mr. Rawdin said.

What does the firm say when someone asks about the name?

“Sometimes we spin a yarn, and sometimes we tell the more boring story,” he said. “It’s never been a negative, and it evokes the warm, family kind of environment that we have here.”

Advisers have taken unique routes to come up with a meaningful name.

Shawn Meade, founder of Redwood Wealth Management, said he named his firm with his partners after he had taken a trip to California and became enamored with the giants trees of Muir Woods. Redwood also conveys a message of strength because the trees — which can grow to be 20 feet in diameter — have bark that chars into a heat shield when exposed to fire, he said.

“And people can spell it easily,” Mr. Meade said, an attribute with which clients had difficulty at his earlier firm, Niagara Financial Advisors.

Consultant Scott Silverman of Articulated Brands said the most important thing a name can do for any firm is to help differentiate it from competitors.

Naming is 25% creative and 75% strategic, he said. Advisers should choose a warm, human name that is a bit clever, if possible.

“A clever name shows confidence, that they were willing to have a little fun with their name,” Mr. Silverman said.

He points to Manifest Equity, a firm that finds investment opportunities in Asia, as a witty choice.

The most common mistake in financial services is deciding not to rename a firm, Mr. Silverman said. Most firms don’t consider renaming a viable option because they think they have equity in the existing name. In reality, they usually don’t have as much as they think — or it’s not the right kind of equity, he said.

“It’s not about throwing darts or writing on a cocktail napkin, not that you couldn’t stumble on something great,” Mr. Silverman said. “But naming is an opportunity to make sure you have clearly defined what’s unique about your firm.”

Douglas Famigletti said many people think his firm, Griffin Asset Management Inc., is named after someone, but in reality, his father and three partners chose the name when they started the firm in 1976 to signify the Greek mythological figure who guards the gold.

“Our main investment strategy is to preserve and grow,” said Mr. Famigletti, president and chief investment officer of the firm.

At 1st Portfolio Wealth Advisors, chief executive Michael Rebibo said he and his wife thought of the name during a plane flight shortly before he started the firm in 2005. It signifies how the firm manages money for their clients using modern portfolio theory, which is based on having an optimal or best portfolio for each client, given risk and return characteristics.

He wanted to create a brand that wasn’t just synonymous with him, so that when the business added partners, it would be something that everyone would be proud to represent.

It’s also a plus that when the firm is mentioned among other entities, 1st Portfolio is typically listed first, he said.

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