Sterling Shea on what it takes to become a Barron’s top advisor

IF YOU EVER WANTED TO KNOW WHAT IT TAKES TO GET ON BARRON’S LIST OF TOP ADVISORS, here it is. Sterling Shea opens the kimono and takes us behind the scenes as he shares the criteria Barron’s uses to rank its top advisors.

From his perch as the Managing Director and Head of Advisor Programs at Barron’s, Sterling is a leading authority on financial advisor practice management and one of the most plugged-in experts on the best practices of the country’s top advisors. He led the development of Barron’s series of best practices conferences for industry leading financial advisors, which includes numerous invitation-only events for elite practitioners spanning the independent, consultant, and national full-service channels, respectively.

In other words, Sterling knows advisors!

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"Net growth in the industry is being concentrated in fewer, better financial advisors."

Sterling Shea: Net growth in the industry is being concentrated in fewer, better financial advisors.

Sterling Shea

  • Managing Director and Head of Advisor Programs at Barron’s
  • Boston College and Harvard Business School grad

Show Notes

*** Download the full Interview Transcript here *****

  • To get on the Barron’s list, Sterling said, “We’re looking for large and thriving businesses that have a long track record of organic growth.”
  • As part of the list consideration process, advisors have to fill out a form with 102 points of data. And these points of data are broken into three broad categories: assets, revenue, and quality of practice.
  • “To us, referrals are the ultimate arbiter of success in this business.”
  • He says there are four key areas that advisors on the list consistently focus on: strategic team development, a change in the way they position and articulate their primary investment thesis, the way they approach client selection, and a focus on multi-generational wealth transfer.
  • The best advisors take a strategic view of their business. They determine where they want to be five to 10 years down the road and then put the people and processes in place to make that vision happen.
  • This comment surprised me. “The most consistent answer that we hear among advisors who are growing at the fastest rate about what they are focused on as a top priority for their business is multigenerational wealth capture.”
  • Having a viable social media footprint is no longer optional for financial advisors. If there’s one nugget of advice that I think is so important and it’s still shocking to me how few advisors do this is to Google yourself because I assure you, in this day and age, that’s what any wealthy family that’s referred to you the first thing they’re going to do. If your name isn’t coming up, if your firm isn’t coming up within the first answers on the Google search for either you or your company, that’s a problem and you need to fix that.” Agree!
  • “We encounter some advisors who say, ‘I don’t need to worry about branding. I get all my business from referrals.’ Well, I think that’s hogwash.”
  • Sterling goes on to explain how branding is a defensive strategy. “If you don’t have a viable brand then you open yourself up to commoditization and it becomes that much harder to differentiate your business.”
  • Your mindset matters. “I think being growth minded is hugely important because if you don’t grow, you’re not going to have the ability financially to deploy resources to reinvest in the business and to reinvest in the type of infrastructure that will result in better service and better outcomes for your clients. So growth isn’t optional. It’s necessary to create a more refined service model to succeed in the future.” And, I might add, nobody wants to work for a firm that isn’t on an exciting growth trajectory.

Resources & Other Links


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Steve Sanduski, CFP® is a FinTech entrepreneur, New York Times bestselling author, podcast host, and international speaker.
By | 2016-04-07T22:34:54+00:00 February 22nd, 2015|


  1. Richard Cobb June 7, 2017 at 6:51 am - Reply

    This article was very informative, thank you for sharing your knowledge

  2. Michael Loftus October 16, 2017 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    First, you don’t have to be big to be a Top Advisor. Thera re many who choose the 100 clients, 100 million model and are very successful and leaders of the industry.

    Secondly has he actually ever built a practice, observing is one thing, doing is another. Clearly a sharp guy, but until you’ve been through the pain…..

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