Meet Rob Francais
Aspiriant CEO earns Barron’s honors for vision
For almost two decades, Aspiriant Chief Executive Officer Rob Francais has been pursuing a vision of a holistic wealth management firm that offers a full suite of financial planning and investment management services to affluent individuals and families. Rob’s approach and dedication to putting clients’ needs first have earned him a spot in Barron’s Financial Advisors Hall of Fame, a prestigious honor that awards wealth advisors who have been on the magazine’s Top 100 Advisors list for 10 or more years.
The Hall of Fame honors, “a group of advisors who exemplify long-term success and commitment to their clients,” Barron’s says.
Rob’s path to this achievement was essentially borne out of necessity over 20 years ago. He was working as a tax partner at Deloitte, advising middle-market family business owners, when the dot-com boom and an infusion of capital into the markets started to mint millionaire and billionaire entrepreneurs.
During that period, he guided many clients through the sale process — from tax planning, to business valuation, to negotiations before and through their liquidity event. Once the deal was done, these clients needed crucial, personal guidance on how to manage their newly transformed assets in the context of their values, including how to invest, transfer assets to future generations, and give back to the community effectively as they entered the next phase of their lives. They came to Rob because he was their trusted advisor, but some of these needs were not his specialty.
“That group was growing rapidly, and it was clear they needed help,” Rob said.
So, being a problem-solver and advocate for clients, he struck out to find the right advisors to help the people he served. He soon realized that the financial services world was still siloed into various disciplines, riddled with conflict, and nobody was set up to handle the complexities of emerging wealth.
“Why isn’t there a large, independent advisory firm focused solely on the comprehensive needs of affluent families that offered all the financial planning and investment services they needed?” he wondered.
So, he set out to build such a firm. He first co-founded Quintile Wealth Management in Los Angeles, which later merged with Kochis-Fitz in San Francisco to become Aspiriant in 2008. Today, Aspiriant is one of the largest national, independent service firms offering financial planning, strategic planning, investment management and tax services to affluent families.
Through strategic mergers with like-minded boutique firms, Rob has guided the growth of an award-winning company with over $12 billion currently under management and 11 offices nationwide. And he’s engineered a private ownership structure that values employees and ensures Aspiriant will be here to serve clients for generations to come.
We sat down with Rob to learn more about Aspiriant’s growth story and what makes the firm unique.
How did you come to partner with Kochis-Fitz and create a new wealth management company, Aspiriant?
My journey toward partnering with Kochis-Fitz started in 2004. Back then, I was the CEO of Quintile Wealth Management and actively pursuing our vision to build a sustainable wealth management firm that caters to the unique needs of affluent families. At the time, we laid out a 20-year business plan that called for us to grow inorganically by merging with other firms made up of like-minded people who shared our values. After three years of looking for the right partner firm, one of my co-founders, Bob Wagman, introduced me to Tim Kochis. Bob and Tim used to work together, along with Linda Fitz at another company back the late 1970s, and they remained in touch.
While having lunch one day in January 2007, Tim mentioned to Bob he was looking for a successor CEO for Kochis-Fitz, and Bob shared with Tim a little about me and what we were trying to build. Bob thought I might be a good match. After getting to know each over the course of a couple of weeks, I formally presented our strategy to Tim and other leaders of Kochis-Fitz. We discovered we shared the same values and appreciated the same vision of a durable firm that’s 100% focused on client service. So, we joined together and changed the name to Aspiriant.
Since then, Aspiriant has brought five other firms into the fold. What do you look for in a company when considering a merger?
First, we’re not looking to get bigger — we’re looking to get better. The focus is on adding talent and scale to benefit clients. We want diversity in skills, geography and service offerings.
We also strive to get unique access to investment products and reduce their cost. By aggregating the assets under management, we can collectively bargain on clients’ behalf and help them invest in institutional-quality investments. It’s really satisfying to be able to take a $5 million client and give them the purchasing power of a $12 billion client.
The key characteristics we look for in another firm include having the same core values, a shared commitment to the vision, and a similar client-service approach. It needs to be a good match. Essentially, are they “cut from the same cloth” (in professionalism and fiduciary orientation), and do they have an appreciation for our investment philosophy? Does the combination help our collective clients and people?
Aspiriant is a set of ideals and vision for serving affluent families. You either share that vision or you don’t.
Your early work at Deloitte involved helping families with business succession planning. How does Aspiriant’s ownership structure, with 67 employee-partners, support the firm’s succession plan?
The puzzle in our industry is about how owners of independent firms capture value of the organization without compromising the very personal values that created that value in the first place – independence. Families are multi-generational, and they want a wealth management firm that’s multi-generational. We see it as an extension of our fiduciary duty to build such a firm.
The partnership structure makes Aspiriant a sustainably independent service offering. When the company is 100% owned by the same people who serve families, it aligns everyone’s interests — the clients, the employees and the owners. When organized this way, the success of our clients and the success of our people become completely interrelated.
You’ve received numerous industry awards and recognition over the years. As the Barron’s Hall of Fame induction represents your achievements throughout the life of Aspiriant, how do you feel about the honor?3>
While I’m very grateful for the recognition, this award isn’t about me as an individual. It is a recognition of the whole community that has come together to create the service and success our stakeholder’s have enjoyed. There’s nothing I can do alone. It’s really recognition of the shared values and commitment of our people. It’s about Aspiriant.
I also feel it’s a little early for us to be in a hall of fame. We’re still in our infancy; we’ve only just begun and won’t even be hitting mid-stride for some time.
For now, our job is to build a culture that will last for generations to come, and how well we set the foundation today will determine how durable our value proposition will be going forward.
Correction: In an earlier version of this story, the year when Tim Kochis and Bob Wagman had lunch together was incorrect. The correct year is 2007.