Practical analysis for investment professionals
10 May 2016

The Intangibles of Having Your Own Firm

In January, I offered strategies on entrepreneurship in “Five Reasons to Start Your Own Firm and Four Steps to Take to Do It.” Now, I would like to address the intangibles of an entrepreneurial mindset.

Launching a business and then building a profitable company are difficult. Even in the business-friendly climate in the United States, the overwhelming majority of new businesses fail.

Recognize the Intangibles of Success — Especially Trust

There is so much in life we cannot measure. How do you quantify trust, love, relationships, and communication? Our interdependent global economy naturally puts a premium on trust, which cannot be measured.

Acquiring and serving clients requires specific skills. When launching your own business, you will need to foster trust with prospective clients and strategic referral partners. In order to help clients implement investment or financial planning advice, you will need to build even more trust.

On the recommendation of my business partner, I read The Speed of Trust by Stephen M. R. Covey. It taught me the importance of using my ears and mouth proportionately. To build trust, take a “listen first” attitude. Genuine listening is an intangible skill and a competitive advantage. Covey also explains that trust is a function of two things: character and competence.

Character is defined by your integrity, your motives, and your intentions. Competence is a function of your capabilities, your skills, your results, and your track record. Both are equally critical when fostering trust and relationships that will support the growth of your investment business.

Intangible Capital Chart

Image credit: Blue Ocean Global Technology

Measure Success

It is important to have metrics for quantifying success. Just as benchmarks are important for measuring the success of an investment portfolio, they are also critical for your business success, because you are responsible for your time.

Though assets under management and returns are both important for profitability, how well you define success at the beginning of your business will determine how strong a foundation you have for progress in growth. Our firm made a decision to never allow the size of our company or number of clients to define our success. We choose to measure success in terms of helping clients achieve their goals through financial planning and the impact we have on the world through our education strategy. Our Blue Ocean Strategy is education.

Sameer Somal, CFA,l in Ahmedabad

Sameer Somal, CFA, provides perspective on the value of the CFA Program during Blue Ocean Global Wealth’s “Entrepreneurship and the Intangibles of Success” education program in Ahmedabad, India, in December 2015.

Image credit: Blue Ocean Global Technology

Adopt a Global Mindset

One of my favorite childhood activities was buying the Choco Taco from the local Good Humor ice cream truck. Unilever, a British-Dutch company and the world’s largest ice-cream maker, owns Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers, and Good Humor. CITGO was founded by Henry Doherty, an American, in 1910, but the company is now owned by the government of Venezuela. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council owns 75% of New York City’s Chrysler Building, while Israeli El-Ad Group owns the Plaza Hotel.

The interdependence of our global supply chain requires us to have a global mindset across all disciplines. Just under half of S&P 500 sales are from outside the United States. If the Ford you buy is built in Mexico and the Honda is manufactured in Ohio, which company has a better claim to ask its customers to “Buy American”?

Similarly, clients require their advisers to have a global perspective when serving as fiduciaries and managing their investment portfolios. Investment professionals must account for and explain myriad variables, including increased global stock market correlations, each country’s idiosyncratic stage of the investment cycle, low interest rates in many developed market economies, and geopolitical uncertainty.

Estimated Percent of S&P 500 Company Sales

Embrace Innovation

Taking an innovative approach when building your investment business will help you drive progress and expand your opportunity set. This may mean that you are thoughtful about how you engage your clients and prospects, perhaps leveraging technology to communicate through video conferencing rather than requesting a traditional meeting at your office.

Innovation can also occur within your investment process when you identify non-traditional asset classes or discover new ways to hedge against adverse declines in portfolio value.

We follow a financial planning process at our firm. Investments are important and represent a cornerstone of each financial planning relationship. When planning for the launch of our firm, our team recognized that technology must be an asset rather than a challenge, barrier, or constraint.

As a result, we conducted an exhaustive global search to identify experienced technology partners. We became clients of several companies and referred others in our network to test our new resources. We applied our financial planning background to create a technology planning process to help align marketing, sales, and technology resource allocations with the organization’s strategic plan. Sustaining a company’s inherent competitive advantages requires a transparent and innovative technology partner.

Have a Long-Term Perspective

Investing for clients requires long-term perspective. So does launching a business and building an enduring company. They are often a life’s work. I tried to make this point when I spent time in India this past fall providing entrepreneurial education and speaking on the benefits of completing the CFA Program.

Today, India is experiencing a start-up revolution. The country is young, with over 500 million people under the age of 26. Naturally, the media focuses on the success stories of a few companies such as SnapDeal and FlipKart. I reminded the audience these are anomalies, though. Even these seeming overnight successes are the product of much more than a great idea and an infusion of capital. A long-term perspective is fundamental to building a great business. It is essential to make decisions based upon where you want to be five, 10, and 20 years from now.

Enjoy the Journey

Satisfaction is found in personal and professional happiness. Work fueled by your strengths and passions will produce extraordinary results.

This story, which is probably apocryphal, sheds some light on what I mean:

When John Lennon was a boy in the late 1940s, his mother taught him the importance of happiness. One day in school, the teacher instructed the class to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up on a piece of paper.

Most students created pictures of Winston Churchill, pilots, firefighters, and those heroes who had led the United Kingdom in World War II. John drew happy faces, toys, and the beach. John’s teacher said, “John, you don’t understand the assignment.” John replied to his teacher, “You don’t understand life.”

I encourage you to think about what makes you happy. Follow your heart when applying for your next job or launching your next entrepreneurial venture.

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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.

Image credit: © Li

About the Author(s)
Sameer S. Somal, CFA

Sameer Somal is the Chief Financial Officer at Blue Ocean Global Technology and Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Prior to co-founding Blue Ocean Global Wealth, he was a Senior Investment Analyst at The Bank of Nova Scotia and a Financial Advisor and Intermediary at Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch & Co. As part of the Investment Strategy Group at The Bank of Nova Scotia, Sameer actively contributed to the firm’s white paper and institutional business development efforts. He delivered keynote presentations and fostered education partnerships nationally. His fiduciary responsibility at Ernst & Young and Advisor Compliance Associates include helping asset management and alternative investment companies adapt to Sarbanes-Oxley. Sameer is a CFA Charterholder, a CFP® professional, and a Chartered Alternative Investment AnalystSM. Sameer serves on the Financial Planning Association (FPA) National Diversity Committee and the Board of Directors of the Philadelphia/Tri-State FPA. A senior financial services leader on industry roundtable and panel discussions, Sameer serves on CFP Board’s Council on Education and is a Women’s Initiative (WIN) Advocate. He is an active member at CFA Institute, serves on the Advisory Executive Council of the Women Economic Forum (WEF), and is a Board Advisor at the iPlan Education Institute in New Delhi, India. A member of the Speakers’ Series at the Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business, Sameer is subject matter expert witness and a frequent speaker on the digital revolution, reputation management, succession planning, technology, diversity, financial planning, entrepreneurship, and leadership. In May of 2017, he was named an Iconic Leader Creating a Better World for All by the All Ladies League & Women Economic Forum.

3 thoughts on “The Intangibles of Having Your Own Firm”

  1. Savio Cardozo says:

    Hello Sameer
    Thank you for putting this article together.
    In my case it is timely as I am midst of bringing an investment strategy to market.
    What particularly resonated with me is your definition of success – when clients’ achieve the goals they came to you for.
    Thanks as well for your earlier article – the importance of compliance is key, particularly as one crosses jurisdictions.
    Best wishes with your business

  2. Dhairya says:

    Sameer -This is a wonderful article for all the aspiring entrepreneurs out there. It’s not the “difficult known factors” that are a problem in creating in a startup, it’s the “simple unknowns” that challenge you everyday. Conquering the intangibles requires creativity and innovation in times of adversity and that’s what builds the character of a truly hustling successful entrepreneur. Thank you for putting it in this lucid article.

  3. Sameer Somal says:

    Thank you so much Savio and Dhairya. I am very appreciative of you both taking the time to read and provide feedback.

    Savio – please feel free to reach out to me at

    Dhairya – I am looking forward to quality time together in Philadelphia and Mumbai this summer. Your leadership at Ycenter ( is inspiring; our team is honored to collaborate as part of the Ycenter family.

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