The Research Puzzle

Is your investment organization prepared to adapt and succeed?

Change is relentless in the investment ecosystem.

The organizations which thrive in that kind of environment are those that continuously improve. My consulting practice is devoted to helping them do so.

Asset owners, asset managers, advisory firms, consultants, and research firms face a broad array of challenges. I work with the leaders of those organizations to break away from narrow, formulaic approaches in order to craft differentiated solutions to their problems.

I am a generalist by instinct and by background, allowing me to look across today’s lines of demarcation to see the possibilities of tomorrow. I bring a design sensibility to the issues at hand, exploring creative alternatives along with more traditional solutions.

Clients can count on me for objectivity, independence, and candor.

Each engagement is one of a kind. While many principles used in my work are universal, the application of them varies based upon circumstance. Every organization is different and every recommendation is tailored to the specific situation.

One common factor: organizations face intensifying competitive pressures. Therefore, it is important for them to capture “organizational alpha” by rethinking their practices, since it is hard to add value by adopting standard industry templates. An experienced outsider like me can bring a divergent perspective — and can discover unexplored capabilities within an organization as it currently exists.

I provide a variety of services to organizations, from broad-based independent reviews to more limited evaluations. The solutions I offer vary somewhat based on the type of organization, but the goal is always the same: to discover the missing pieces of the puzzle.

For further information, please contact me. I would love to hear from you.

Tom Brakke, CFA

My work includes a range of different consulting services. This summary provides only a brief overview. Please see the solutions page for more detailed information about how I help organizations like yours.

independent reviews

The most common service that I provide is the independent review. Its goal is to evaluate an organization (or one aspect of it) in order to provide its leaders with an unbiased assessment of the situation at hand. Sometimes clients are under pressure and need to make dramatic changes, but a large percentage of them are high-performing organizations that want an outside perspective as part of their process of continuous improvement. (See this for further thoughts about independent reviews.)

due diligence improvement

One important topical area of emphasis for me is due diligence. Virtually every organization involved in the investment world has a stake in the process of due diligence, but little attention is paid to the underlying characteristics that lead to effective due diligence practices. I offer assessments, workshops, and presentations that are designed to identify those characteristics.

communication assistance

Every investment function is a combination of analysis and communication. Often, individuals and organizations fail because of lack of attention to the communication side of the equation. Effective internal communication of information and ideas is critical to good decision making. And communicating with outside clients and stakeholders in a productive manner is mandatory. (That’s why my ability to improve pitchbooks and other materials gets high marks from clients.)

organizational design

Most investment organizations, even large ones, don’t have staff members that are focused on organizational design. I specialize in creating ideas that lead to differentiation and success.

advice and consent

Leaders face a great array of challenges. At times, they just need a sounding board and some suggestions about possible alternatives to consider. That can be worth a great deal.


My process varies depending on the nature of the work. For an independent review, I familiarize myself with the organization in advance of an onsite visit by reviewing public and internal documents. The visit typically consists of meetings with a wide range of members of an organization. Following those interviews, I request and review more documents and do additional research.

As the main deliverable, I generally prepare a written report. In addition, usually there is a follow-up meeting or call to review my observations and recommendations.

Each engagement is customized according to the particular organization, its available resources, and its investment beliefs and goals. No standard templates or models are applied; all analysis and advice is specific to an organization’s unique attributes. The reviews are performed in a way that there is little disruption to the organization.

Some services are smaller in scope and are provided via phone or electronic communication. Please contact me if you want further information.


I am paid in three different ways: by the hour, on a project basis, or on retainer. Most engagements are performed for a flat fee that includes all expenses, eliminating any uncertainty about the total cost for the client.


I work behind the scenes and never divulge the names of my clients.


I offer a guarantee of my work. If a client thought that I did not add value commensurate with my fee, I would adjust the price or the work product. (It hasn’t happened yet.)

Although there is a lot of overlap, each type of client tends to have certain areas of emphasis.

asset owners

Institutional investors — such as pension funds, foundations, and endowments — vary dramatically in size, structure, and complexity. Therefore, as with other kinds of organizations, engagements can look much different from one client to another.

Due diligence is usually a focus. Other important topics include the structuring of the investment function, governance and decision making, investment beliefs, and risk management. An independent review can identify gaps between best practices in a variety of areas, helping fiduciaries fulfill their responsibilities. For example, an organization that relies heavily on an outside investment consultant can get a third-party view of that consultant’s methods.

(Those interested in the issues faced by asset owners might consider signing up for The Prudent Fiduciary Digest, a free newsletter.)

asset managers

I have provided a wide range of services for investment managers, including evaluations of investment process, decision making infrastructure, marketing materials, and organizational design.

A common area of attention is the intersection of “what you do” and “what you say you do.” Based upon the particular philosophy of an organization, is it prepared to deliver on its goals? Then, how well is that captured by the messages it delivers to clients and gatekeepers? Normally there are gaps between how an organization actually functions and how it presents itself to the investing world. Identifying and closing those gaps is critically important.

An independent review surfaces issues that are likely to be found by others over time. It is an outstanding way to prepare for scrutiny by clients and those who will do due diligence examinations in the future.

advisory firms

Registered investment advisors and broker-dealers provide a variety of services, including investment management and advice. While different standards of practice currently apply (the “fiduciary standard” versus the “suitability standard”), in each case the process of vetting and selecting investments presents analytical challenges and legal risks. Given my emphasis on due diligence practices, I can aid advisory firms in structuring their processes appropriately, and, given my experience with asset managers, help them to lift the veil on how those managers operate.

Another area of emphasis is the structuring and operation of investment committees. As advisory firms grow, institutionalizing the process is important, as is building the proper resources. Many organizations lack investment infrastructure and resources in comparison to their assets under management.

Because it’s impractical for many advisory firms to add staff with experience at designing investment organizations, this is an area where a retainer relationship with an outside party can make good business sense.

consultants and gatekeepers

There is increased debate about the value added by investment consultants, and therefore more interest in the process by which their recommendations are formed. In addition, many consulting firms have added an “outsourced CIO” (OCIO) capability, thereby becoming discretionary managers of assets as well as advisors.

In either capacity, consultants (and other gatekeepers) can benefit from an independent review of their approach.

research firms

Over the years, I have been involved in many aspects of investment research, including the design of reports and information systems, the evaluation of research performance, and the selection and training of analysts.

I am a consultant, writer, and investment advisor. As principal of tjb research, I specialize in helping investment firms and institutional investors with decision making processes and organizational strategy. I write about the wide range of "research puzzles" that face all participants in the financial markets and published a book, Letters to a Young Analyst. (An overview of my writings with links to related sites can be found here.)

I worked for fifteen years in professional investment management roles with American Express Financial Advisors. With experience in both equities and fixed income, I held positions as an analyst, portfolio manager, and director of investment research. I was president of Advisory Capital Strategies, the firm's alternative investment division, and led a unit that created a variety of investment products.

For four years, I was the professional advisor for the Carlson Funds Enterprise, an MBA program at the Carlson School of Management of the University of Minnesota. Students in the enterprise learned the investment business by managing two funds that at the time totaled approximately $15 million. I worked one-on-one with students on the investment and operational issues that they faced, and taught a class about research analysis, investment management, and the investment business.

I began providing consulting services in 2003. Until 2009, I was the independent consultant for one of the twelve investment banks that was a party to the $1.5 billion Global Research Analyst Settlement. I was responsible for the implementation of the firm's independent research program under the settlement.

I am a Chartered Financial Analyst and a member of CFA Institute and CFA Society Minnesota. I have worked on several CFA Institute initiatives and am a member of the organization’s Approved Speakers Program.

I am interested in hearing from you. I can be reached in the following ways:

phone 952.807.4762
mail 4665 Old Kent Road
Excelsior, MN 55331
twitter researchpuzzler

If I can’t help you with whatever you are working on, I will try to match you up with someone who can.

prospective clients

Whether or not initial discussions lead to an engagement, they tend to be fruitful for both parties. Usually I can offer some perspective that is helpful, and/or send along readings that illuminate a particular topic. Whether you become a client or not, I would appreciate hearing your ideas, challenges, and concerns.

Should you have an interest, I will give you details on how I would structure an engagement for your organization.


I have written for a variety of industry publications and have been quoted in articles on investment process, due diligence, and investment organizations. I do not speculate on the “what” (by commenting on the attractiveness of an investment, for example), but I am interested in discussing the “how” of industry practice. Unless I am traveling, I will try to respond to your requests in a prompt fashion.

event organizers

Throughout my career I have given presentations to institutional investors, asset managers, and advisors at conferences and private events. Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about the topics listed in the sidebar or other possibilities.

In the financial world, at times it seems that everyone is in everyone else’s business. Potential conflicts of interest are everywhere.

The clients and prospective clients of tjb research represent a wide range of participants in the investment markets. They include institutional investors and providers of investment management, advice, and services.

Therefore, managing any possible conflicts of interest is of utmost importance. Ultimately, the only safeguards are full disclosure of all potential conflicts, the refusal of business that could lead to problematic situations, and an absolute protection of client identity, ideas, data, and methods.

My future rests on my reputation for honesty, trust, and discretion. No questionable engagement, however lucrative financially, is worth the loss of that.

Some services of tjb research may be performed as a registered investment advisor.