Given the growth numbers found in a study released today by FA Insight LLC, it’s a great time to be a financial advisor. But how can advisors keep the party going?

FA Insight, a Tacoma, Wash.-based consultancy, says the median advisory firm grew its client base by 6.7 percent last year, which is the highest rate since it began its annual survey of the advisor space six years ago.

According to the report, The 2014 FA Insight Study of Advisory Firms: Growth by Design, which was sponsored by TD Ameritrade Institutional, advisor firms last year reached a new high in productivity in terms of revenue per professional, while assets under management and revenue both were at their second-highest levels in the survey’s history.

All told, the median operating margin among firms in the survey was 22 percent last year, or double the rate from 2009.

Advisors can partly thank the financial markets for their good fortune, but that’s not the whole story. “Advisors are doing a good job managing their costs, with expenses as a share of revenue hitting a record low in the six years of our study,” says Dan Inveen, principal and research director at FA Insight.

He notes many firms have been prudent about hiring and smarter about delegating tasks. “It relates to standardized workflow processes, which contributes to more efficient ways to get more work done,” Inveen says.

That said, advisors can’t afford to kick back and expect the clients and money to keep rolling in. Nor is growth for growth’s sake a good thing if it stresses the organization and isn’t sustainable.

The study found that while nearly three-quarters of respondent firms reported significant growth rates, only one-third grew without negative side effects. Hence, FA Insight’s report stresses the importance of strategic business development and marketing.

“I think firms are underestimating what it takes to be successful at business development,” Inveen says. “Some of these firms don’t even have a marketing plan. They haven’t designated somebody accountable for marketing activities.”


The report found 85 percent of firms said they have a strategic plan, but many firms also indicated those plans aren’t particularly effective.

“Those reasons relate to lack of implementation and accountability, and just focusing on the wrong objective,” Inveen says.