JNBA Financial Advisors

JNBA Financial Advisors

JNBA at a glance

Founded: 1978

Employees: 22

Assets under management:$630 million

Locations: Bloomington (headquarters), Duluth (opened in 2010)

Clients: More than 700 families; works with both individuals and organizations

Average portfolio size: $750,000 to $2,500,000

Client retention rate: 96 percent

Raising Money in Low Temperatures

In each of the past seven winters, JNBA has put together a group of about 20 to jump into Lake Calhoun to raise money for the annual Special Olympics Polar Bear Plunge. For two consecutive years, the shivering JNBA team ranked as the largest corporate fundraising unit in the state, raising $180,000 for Special Olympics to date.

In 2014, Barron’s named Richard Brown the top financial advisor in Minnesota, based on criteria including assets under management, revenue and regulatory record. That wasn’t the only award he earned last year: The Financial Times named Brown’s Bloomington-based firm, JNBA Financial Advisors, to its inaugural list of the top 300 registered investment advisors in the United States.

Those awards testify to the foresight of his mother, Judith Brown, who founded the financial advisory firm as Judith N. Brown and Associates (JNBA) in 1978. They also demonstrate the firm’s ability to keep itself relevant, attracting new generations of talent and investors. Judith Brown’s founding idea was considered revolutionary at the time: offer a fee-only service, rather than work on commission. “She had a very clear vision of being independent and fee-based,” says Richard Brown, now JNBA’s CEO. “She was a pioneer.”

Richard Brown joined the business in 1996 after working as a domestic and international negotiator. “I came into the business when I was 33 because my sister and my father became very ill,” he recalls. “My mother needed to become a caretaker.” And her son needed to jump in to keep her business going.

That’s what he did, building on the foundation Judith Brown established. The firm hired Kim Fox in 2006 to handle marketing and communications. “It was the best decision the firm ever made,” says Brown; the two later married. “With her leadership and communications skills, Kim took our business to another level.”

Having worked in other highly regulated industries, including pharmaceuticals, Kim Brown “understood how we could leverage marketing to get our name out there,” Richard Brown says. “She created a new look and logo for the firm, developed a website, and took out radio and print advertisements.”

Kim Brown, now JNBA’s president, established customer teams, so clients benefit from the ideas and experience of an entire group of people instead of just one adviser. In addition, JNBA more than doubled its assets under management, from $255 million in 2006 to $630 million in 2014.

“JNBA takes a very disciplined approach to its business,” says George Tamer, director of strategic relationships for TD Ameritrade, the custodian of JNBA’s client assets. “They treat their business as a large publicly traded firm would.” Tamer notes that “there will be a massive transition of wealth in the next decade or two as baby boomers transition wealth to generations X and Y. JNBA is aware of that and is bringing in younger people to prepare for the next-generation client.”

One of the ways JNBA builds younger talent is through a public-private endeavor of JNBA, TD Ameritrade and the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). The program offers students hands-on experience by providing access to financial planning software and industry professionals.

“Not only are we allowing these college students to hit the ground with a high level of skill sets, but we are also increasing the quality of people coming into the industry,” Kim Brown says. The program also provides the firm with a stream of trained recruits. Since 2010, JNBA has hired five UMD graduates—who could help build further upon Judith Brown’s legacy.