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Reno firm’s niche: Report cards on financial managers

John Seelmeyer

Keith Averill spends a lot of time these days knocking on the doors of financial advisors in Las Vegas, the

San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles.

“When I leave Reno, it seems like people take me more seriously,” laughs Averill, the founder of a Reno-based company that helps financial advisors grade the performance of their investment managers.

His Top Tier Managers LLC uses powerful software developed by Zephyr Associates of Zephyr Cove to grade investment managers against their peers and against industry benchmarks.

Top Tier Managers also helps financial advisors such as estate planners, trust attorneys, certified public accountants and family office executives to scout out non-traditional investments that might help them boost returns.

In his 15-year career in the investments business, Averill worked as a senior analyst for Smith Barney

Consulting Group and as a researcher for Lipper Analytical before he joined Zephyr Associates.

He taught staffers at some of the biggest investment organizations in the world the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, for instance how to use the Zephyr Associates analytical tools.

Even as he was working with giant investors, however, Averill was thinking about ways to market use of the analysis tool to other markets. He launched Top Tier Management LLC early this year.

As he’s knocking on doors, Averill looks to develop revenue-sharing deals. An estate planner, for instance, might offer Top Tier Management’s analysis to its individual clients, splitting with Averill the fees it charges the clients.

While the ability of Top Tier Management to provide unbiased rating of investment managers serves to get Averill in the door at potential clients, he says they’re also intrigued by the alternative investments that he’s identified.

Some of them are from northern Nevada.

One Reno area company that’s drawn interest from investors, Averill says, invests in short-term consumer loans, producing 21 percent annual returns in the process.

But he holds details about potential alternative investments close to his chest until he has signed agreements with financial advisors.

“That’s our black box,” Averill says.

He prospects for potential clients for Top Tier Managers through appearances at industry symposiums and through the network of contacts he’s developed in the investments business through his career.

“The reception level has been really, really strong,” he says.

And Top Tier Managers doesn’t need a lot of clients to thrive. Even 10 or 12 financial advisors across the nation, he says, would be plenty.

“This is not a cookie-cutter solution,” Averill says. “I don’t want this to grow into a huge firm. I still like doing the research and meeting with people.”

He gets plenty of opportunity as the staff of Top Tier Managers these days includes only Averill and an office manager.

The company, Averill says, is firmly rooted in northern Nevada.

“I like the outdoors,” he says. “I love Nevada.”


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