A CEO Walks Away: What's Next for Eric Clarke, Orion

Eric Clarke

Eric Clarke, who founded Orion Advisor Solutions 24 years ago, retired as CEO earlier this month. But that doesn’t mean he’s stopped looking ahead at how Orion will help advisors use artificial intelligence in useful, ever-more sophisticated ways.

AI will be “incorporated into the client experience … [and] double or triple the number of households each advisor is able to serve concurrently,” Clarke forecasts in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

Clarke launched Orion at age 26. Unable to find certain technology off the shelf while working at his family RIA, he put together a plan to create a company for advisors that, in 1999, would become Orion Tech.

Before retiring at 50, he led Orion to provide thousands of independent advisory firms with advanced integrated technology. It now administers $3.8 trillion in client assets.

Clarke guided seven major acquisitions from 2018-2022, including those of Brinker Capital and Redtail Technology.

Reflecting on his career, his proudest achievement, he says, is “enabling thousands of advisors to leave brokerage firms and go out as true fiduciaries with the technology they need to serve a significant number of households at scale.”

Clarke is enthusiastic about the growing trend of behavioral finance among advisors because “it makes clients feel understood”… and secure “that they have a trusted resource.” 

Three years ago, Orion hired psychologist Daniel Crosby as the firm’s chief behavioral officer.

Clarke, speaking from Omaha, Nebraska, where Orion is headquartered, talks about why he retired and about his current volunteer work helping student entrepreneurs form their own companies.

“There’s nothing more exciting than starting a new business,” he says, adding that he has no plans to do so right now.

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Here are highlights of our conversation:

THINKADVISOR: Why have you retired at the young age of 50?

ERIC CLARKE: Lots of reasons. One is [although] my entrepreneurial nature and background led our company to the success that we enjoyed, I realized some of those skills and strengths may not be the best to run a business with 1,400 team members.

So in April, I approached my board and said, “I think it would be a good time to bring in a leader that can help take our business to the next level.” 

I felt I had taken our business about as far as I could with the entrepreneurial frameworks that I relate to.

What resulted from your announcement?

We wanted to bring in a more seasoned veteran that had a little deeper experience than I had in certain areas. And I think our board accomplished that by bringing in Natalie [Wolfsen as CEO].

I have a lot of confidence in her and Charles Goldman as chairman. They’re a great team, and as an Orion board member, I’m excited to support them.

Given your entrepreneurial bent, are you planning to start a new company?

I love starting new businesses. But I don’t have anything that’s readily present where I can tell you that’s something I could commit to.

Starting a new business and having that type of experience is always something I’m interested in, But right now, I want to be supportive of [Orion]. We’ll see what the future holds.

What’s been your biggest success as Orion founder and CEO?

The thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve enabled thousands of advisors to leave brokerage firms and go out as true fiduciaries with the technology they need to serve a significant number of households at scale.

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Where do you see the firm a few decades from now?

I believe that Orion’s best days are still to come. The fiduciary model will accelerate as we go forward. I’m really excited about Orion’s future.

In the years to come, Orion will be able to help advisors with technology built around artificial intelligence, taking the very unhuman-like responses we’re seeing coming out of AI now and incorporating [upgraded capabilities] into the client experience.

That will drive advisors’ ability to serve more and more households. It will help advisors accomplish tasks so that it will double or triple the number of households each advisor is able to serve concurrently.

What trends has Orion recently capitalized on?