How investment advisors can stand out from the crowd

Standing out from crowd
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You know the saying "little fish in a big pond"? It certainly applies to the financial advisory world, where more than 300,000 advisors compete for clients across the country.

If you want to stand out from the crowd, you need to have a clear message on who you can help and why, said Cathy Curtis, owner of Oakland, Calif.-based Curtis Financial Planning.

Eighty percent of her new clients find her through an Internet search for a female advisor catering to female clients. Having that niche is essential to stand out in what would otherwise be an overwhelming number of generic search results.

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CNBC spoke to Curtis at last week's TD Ameritrade LINC Conference in San Diego, which brought together about 3,500 RIAs (Registered Investment Advisors) under one roof. Even among this specialized group, competition is fierce. While the total number of financial advisors—a group that includes Certified Financial Planners, Chartered Financial Analysts, and investment advisors, among othershas been sliding in recent years, the number of RIAs in the U.S. has been growing.

The total number of investment advisors registered with the SEC last year stood at nearly 11,000 in 2014—a jump of 3.4 percent from the previous year, according to the Investment Adviser Association. And the number is expected to continue to rise.

In its latest report, the global analytics firm Cerulli Associates projects that RIAs and dually-registered advisors (in which practices affiliate with an independent broker-dealer for a brokerage platform) combined will make up nearly 25 percent of advisor headcount by the end of 2018.

Curtis said switching her practice to focus on women in 2008 was the best decision she ever made. Not only is it an under-served and increasingly wealthy pool of society, but Curtis says women make great clients. That is, she's found them to be more open and not afraid to say they don't know something. She also says it's not uncommon for a female client to open up and tell their whole life story in the first five minutes, which gives her an immediate sense of what their life financial needs are.

About 50 percent of Curtis' clientele are single women, mostly successful professionals who want to remain financially secure if they decide to change tack in their lives. Another large part of Cathy's clientele are single women who've been left an inheritance, "emotional money" they want to quickly put in an objective professional's hands.

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Another investment advisor offering a niche is Mark Langerman, CEO of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Empowerment Financial Group and managing director of the " Patriot Fund." Langerman said he created the fund to address the previously unmet need for a "terror-free" investment option. It is the only mandated terror-free mutual fund, meaning it avoids investing in publicly traded companies that do business with nations defined as "State Sponsors Of Terror" such as Iran, Sudan, Syria, Cuba or North Korea, at the same time as aiming to minimize global security risk.

Langerman said came upon the idea about seven years ago when he stunned to learn that many American corporations were still doing business with companies in nations identified by the U.S. government as sponsors of terror. He said about 55 U.S. companies and about 600 globally still maintain such relationships despite sanctions.

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He admits his niche is still a relatively new investment concept, but it's gaining momentum among conscientious investors, particularly over the last couple of years.

And, in keeping with its ideology, a portion of the profits goes to armed services or veterans charities such as "America's Mighty Warriors."