February 6, 2024

5 Problems RIAs Face Organizing Their Back Office

Written By Charesse Spiller

Share this post

By understanding the intricacies and addressing each challenge head-on, RIA firms can optimize their operations and foster a thriving business culture.

This was originally written for and published by NAPFA: The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.

When RIA firm owners look to streamline their operations, there is often a problem with their back office. However, they’re often trying to come up with a “solve” for a specific symptom they’re frustrated by, instead of addressing the root cause of the problem. 

Your firm’s back-office is comprised of three core areas:

  1. People. The goal is to establish role clarity to help team members understand the importance of their work and how their efforts contribute to the firm’s success.

  2. Processes. Processes support people, making sure that company standards are defined and met, and that everyone is clear on how to execute their role.

  3. Technology. Technology supports people by enhancing their processes, increasing productivity, and improving everyone’s experience.

You may deal with inefficiencies in any one of these key areas, and taking the time to diagnose exactly what’s going on can help save you time and money. Today, we’re going to review five key problems and solutions that you can implement today.

Problem One: Turnover in Staff

Having staff turnover hurts regardless of your firm size. Often, turnover happens unexpectedly, and it can be difficult to make a decision about how to move forward after experiencing a team loss. 

Problem Defined: You’ve had turnover in your staff. Team members who have collaborated on the growth of the business are gone, and you’re lacking both people to complete tasks and potential leadership (depending on who left) to guide the business forward.

Pain Points: All of this now falls onto your plate as the firm owner. You’re picking up work, and innovation and progress suffers because you’re underwater. You may even find that you hit a growth plateau because you don’t have the team to support new clients.


  1. Process Improvement. If your firm is organized, you may be able to take this team turnover as an opportunity to improve your processes and reevaluate what your firm truly needs. Take the time to evaluate the tasks you need to fill, and whether or not anyone on your team can pick up the slack – or if automation and/or a streamlined process can help to reduce the manpower needed to ensure things run smoothly. You might even work with an operations professional to help you streamline, automate, define the roles needed in your firm, and help you find the resources and tools you need to revamp your processes and support your staff. For example, if you lose a lead advisor who also helped the firm manage operations, you may find a Fractional COO, Operations Consultant, or even a contracted marketing agency can help to fill the gaps for less cost so that you can focus on training up your existing team.

  2. Cross-training. When someone leaves your company, the transition is easier when other team members are trained to take on their tasks. Crosstraining prior to (or immediately following) team turnover can help you scale your business and cover gaps when someone leaves. Crosstraining also empowers team members to take on more and allows you to develop meaningful career paths for each team member (which could also reduce team turnover!).

Problem Two: Burnt Out Operations Manager

If you are a larger firm, you may have a dedicated operations specialist or manager on your team. Often, this role turns into a Jack or Jill of All Trades. They’re doing everything that advisors don’t want to touch, and they burn out.

Problem Defined: Your operations manager is burning out because they’re dealing with training, tech, processes, marketing, and more.

Pain Points: When you have a solid operations manager on your team, the last thing you want is to let them go. They need to be taken care of, or the firm’s operation has the potential to backslide if they get burnt out or leave. The ops manager may disengage, not make decisions with a clear head, and bottleneck the growth of the firm as a result. 

Solution: Incorporate a black-out season annually that’s dedicated to operations projects, internal calendar and project management, implementing new systems, collaborating as a team, and taking time to “recharge” as a team. This gives you time to assess pain points in your business, take vacations, and ensure that nobody is running on empty all year long. It also frees up future capacity because you’ve tackled big projects with dedicated focus and time instead of doing double duty for an extended period.

Problem Three: Derailing Delegation

This is often the number one problem advisors and firm owners face – delegating parts of their firm’s process to other team members to free up capacity. 

Problem Defined: You’re struggling to delegate the “next steps checklist” effectively to your team beyond client meetings and strategy. 

Pain Points: This can lead to errors in account servicing, operations inefficiency, and a lack of consistency in administrative tasks. Advisors are worried about delegating and don’t have a clear system to get work off of their plates, so their firm growth stops and they burn out over time. 


  1. Put a dedicated operations lead in place. Have one person in your firm, either a junior advisor, administrator, or a true operations specialist, lead your team’s operations. Leveraging one person in this role can help advisors stay accountable to whatever delegation system they put in place. This person can also help to create streamlined processes, organize other team members, and keep everyone on track.

  2. Train advisors on delegation. Your advisors may need clarity about how to delegate effectively. Often, if tasks are delegated via email, text, or Slack, they get lost in the shuffle. Creating clear processes around how to delegate in your company’s CRM or project management tool can help advisors easily assign tasks to their ops teams.

  3. Create systems for role clarity. To delegate effectively, you need a process and a system to support it! For example, you may need to coach your advice team on how to create and launch a workflow, then assign tasks to their operators to keep the ball rolling. 

Putting these three items in place allows your ops and advisory teams to work effectively together because you have repeatable systems in place and there’s no “re-learning” different styles of work on the team.

Problem Four: Lack of Role Clarity

If you have a large firm, there’s a good chance you have duplicate roles or tasks floating around, creating inefficiencies and a lack of clarity on how everyone functions together.

Problem Defined: A lack of clarity around roles within your firm leads to tension between servicing advisors and your back office. 

Pain Points: Both your advisory teams and ops staff likely feel overworked, underappreciated, and unclear on who is responsible for what. This can insight a big “blame game” when balls get dropped, and introduce a negative workplace culture. 


  1. Create a centralized back-office. When all of your back-office team members are trained on everything your firm needs, they can act as one, efficient organism supporting your advice team. Anyone in your back office can support any advisor, and there’s clarity around exactly how to complete tasks to your firm’s unique standard.

  2. Hire a COO. As a firm owner, you may not have time to wear all the hats required of you. A COO can help your firm truly thrive. They monitor your back office, act as a facilitator and integrator, and improve your team dynamic so that everyone can work cohesively.

  3. Create a service calendar. A service calendar outlines exactly how you deliver services to clients and empowers team members by clearly defining who owns what task. There’s no more guessing on who is responsible for each part of the process. From there, you can build workflows to support your process and allow the end-to-end system to run smoothly.

Problem Five: A Lack of Experience in Your Operations Team

Raise your hand if you’ve been letting your administrative assistant run all of your firm’s operations up until now.

Problem Defined: Administrative roles are fantastic, and often very needed within a firm’s structure. However, advisors who let their administrators make big, firm-altering operations decisions are setting themselves up for failure.

Pain Points: Your admin is likely untrained when it comes to operations. They’ve learned on the job and done a good job so far, but they don’t have enough experience to make future decisions for the company. When they do make these decisions, you may find that the solutions implemented are not as efficient as they need to be.


  1. Understand the difference between administration and operations. Operations should be focused on building and improving your firm’s systems. They’re optimizing your processes, implementing new tech, and more. Your administrators are executing day-to-day tasks and supporting the business. 

  2. Consider hiring for the role. Whether you work with a consultant or contractor, or bring someone in-house, you may need to hire for an operations role to get the forward movement you’re looking for. You need someone forward-thinking, tech-savvy, and who acts as a critical thinker.

  3. Opt to train your admin. There are several tools on the market that allow you to train your admin to level up their ops know-how. If your administrator has the personality and interest to take their career to the next level, this may be a good fit for your firm. 

Things To Keep In Mind

Firm owners will usually be able to see or feel a problem within their firm’s operation, but may not be able to pinpoint the actual issue. This can be a challenge when trying to fix problems and create a scalable solution for your firm’s back office. My number one piece of advice is to listen to what people on your team think – especially your back office staff. Often, they’ll have unique insights into what’s going on and can help you come up with a strategy that solves the frustration you’re feeling and makes their jobs better. 

Struggling to create an efficient back office? Take the time to evaluate your pain points or work with a professional to diagnose any issues in your business. Then, develop a game plan with FinOps Co-op to help you run a cohesive, innovative business with a fantastic company culture that’s ready to grow.

Related Posts

June 20, 2024


In this episode, we're joined by Charesse Spiller, founder of Level Best, to explore the transformative‬ power of operational excellence. Charesse dives deep into the principles and strategies

January 3, 2024

Operations, Technology

Discover how AI optimizes operations for RIAs, enhancing scalability and efficiency. Learn practical implementation strategies and tools.

November 1, 2023

Client Experience

Creating truly exceptional client relationships means having a game plan for how to nurture your clients in an ongoing way.

Skip to content