Rick Kuhlman – Cambridge Investment Research, Inc.
It’s a financial solutions firm that its larger counterparts covet for their own folds, but Cambridge Investment Research, Inc. (Cambridge) has been saying “no” to such come-ons. Instead, this Fairfield, Iowa based operation continues to acquire broker-dealers, registered investment advisors and other asset-management firms; for that, it needs someone to mind the details.
Rick Kuhlman’s been serving that role for nearly five years, and in March, he celebrates his first anniversary as chief legal officer and senior vice president. There being much pending on the mergers-and-acquisition front, Kuhlman’s coming up with standards, template documents and other means to ease these complex transactions.
Cambridge has an edge, he says, noting how its competitors in M&A are often backed by parent companies or subject to Wall Street expectations as opposed to this privately controlled enterprise. Still, he reminds that while efficiency is his goal, there’s no fast-tracking such processes. With each acquisition comes personnel to integrate, clientele to service, and rules and regulations that must be followed.
Complexities notwithstanding, Kuhlman says the processes have been progressing as smoothly as is practically possible. He’s working to implement a model where the new hires can be employees of a Cambridge entity, BridgePort Financial Solutions, that allows them to service their clients in a business-as-usual manner.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time,” he says. “It will be customizable with the same starting point and a good understanding of a baseline set of terms for Cambridge.”
Kuhlman says it’s mutually beneficial once the new firms are under the Cambridge umbrella. Cambridge fairly compensates the seller while gaining new clientele. He partners with team members who have extensive transactional experience and says that their skill sets broaden with every deal. It’s also a collaborative process with clientele, and Cambridge is diligent about evaluating their interests while protecting its own.
Walls coming down
Then, there’s Kuhlman’s emphasis on continuous improvement and development of the firm’s regulatory affairs and dispute-resolution teams. While those are still separate teams, he’s been breaking down silos and allowing them to cross-train. This, he explains, enhances their respective skill sets, broadens their awareness of the business and enhances overall efficiency.
“It’s good for the company, for those individuals in their career development, and for the financial professional you serve because more people can support them,” Kuhlman tells Vanguard in January. “They can serve financial professionals better because the depth of their experience helps them navigate a particular situation they’ve seen before as they are learning from experiences and expanding their knowledge base.”
It’s all part of Kuhlman’s expanding role at Cambridge, which had been among his clients during his nine years at the Bryan Cave, a St. Louis law firm that’s since taken on a London partner and rebranded as Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. Much as Kuhlman says he enjoyed his years there as well as his previous stretches with three other Midwest firms, he wanted a seat at the proverbial table, one where he could engage in projects from conception to completion and found it at Cambridge.
He’d certainly have much to do when he came aboard in April 2019, when Cambridge was expanding its team to include talent of his skill set and level of experience. Kuhlman having honed his skills in litigation and the regulatory and compliance spaces, he proved versatile enough to weigh in on almost any issue.
Among what he stressed most: Financial rules and regulations were changing fast though not always as fast as the industry itself. The enforcers weren’t cutting anybody much slack, and Cambridge was adding resources to stay proactive on compliance.
Stickler for compliance
That’s had Kuhlman also focusing on human resource functions, ensuring the employee handbook is up to date, and the firm has a hand on such matters as wage and audit compliance. Most other issues might fall on his plate: customer arbitration, immigration, contracts etc. And there’s examining new ways of doing business, including artificial intelligence.
“The wealth management industry is certainly part of the AI revolution, and we are leveraging those tools where we can,” he says. “We’re treading cautiously as there are reasonable debates about when and where its use makes sense. . We know that AI is here to stay, but not likely to replace the relationship element of our work, in the foreseeable future anyway.”
Kuhlman has but as a companion rather than a tool to verify his work. There’ll always be a need for the human touch, he says.
“Getting a call from legal doesn’t mean you need to hide under your desk,” he chuckles.
It’s fair to say that he’s never lost a sense of the value of personal interaction, the 1988 Duke University economics and psychology undergrad having launched his career as a commercial lender for two years with First American Bank. Then came the real estate market collapse and Kuhlman enrolling at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law followed by him clerking from 1993 to 1995 at U.S. District Court in Eastern Missouri.
He’s since spent much of his career where law and finance intersect and, pre-Cambridge, achieving partnership at three firms—Blackwell Sanders, Husch Blackwell Sanders and Bryan Cave, respectively—after a 1995-to-2000 stretch as an associate at Peper Martin Jensen Michael and Hetlage. As he starts his fourth decade in the legal profession, Kuhlman might be in his most far-reaching role.
By assisting financial professionals in running their firms, Kuhlman and his colleagues indirectly serve the end clients in starting a family, buying a house, building a nest egg, sending their children to college and planning retirement. It all calls for a deft legal and business touch and attention to compliance.
“Our focus is on growth for the company and the financial professionals we serve, and we find financial professionals who embrace the flexibility and freedom to conduct business the way they want,” Kuhlman says. “I’m used to being available to people any day and time, even weekends.”
He and his wife being empty nesters, they find some time for traveling, and last summer made it to London to watch the St. Louis Cardinals split a two-game series with the Chicago Cubs at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park’s London Stadium. They’ll squeeze in a few vacations this year, if only on weekends, for much on the Cambridge agenda calls for Kuhlman’s fine-tuning. For him, it’s the logical progression for a business-minded lawyer.
“I did what you’re supposed to do in privacy practice and became an equity partner in what I think is among the best firms in the country,” he says about the nine years at Bryan Cave that preceded Cambridge. “I came here because of the people, particularly President, Advocacy and Administration, General Counsel Seth Miller. Now, I’m helping to get our people focused on supporting the transactional business; each deal is different. I’m enjoying my work here and look forward to continuing to do it so long as I am having a good time.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Winter II 2024 Edition here.
Showcase your feature on your website with a custom “As Featured in Vanguard” badge that links directly to your article!
Copy and paste this script into your page coding (ideally right before the closing