A financial advisor could find any number of reasons to feel down these days-client apprehension, market volatility and heated competition among them.

But that hasn't stopped a lot of advisors from finding paths to grow their practices amid the carnage. According to a recent study, there is no secret to these advisors' success. It's just a recognition that it is in times of chaos that advisors are needed most.

"We find that you divide advisors into one of two camps," says Mark Tibergien, head of the financial services practice at Moss Adams LLP in Seattle, which examined advisor financial performance in a study released by the Financial Planning Association and SEI Investments.

"You have those who say, 'If things are so bad, why do I feel so good?' And then there are those who say, 'If things are so good, why do I feel so bad?'" Tibergien says.

Those who take the former outlook are finding success even at a time when the market has been rocked by fear and uncertainty. The study found, for instance, that advisors have experienced a 16.7% increase in client assets in 2001 and early 2002-despite the fact that the market vaporized 5.3% of client assets during that time span.

Revenues have also been on the rise by an average of about 7%. But in one of the sour notes to the study, profit margins were down about 27%, with advisors finding it difficult to outpace the increased costs of labor, rent and other expanded services required to remain competitive in hard times.

Yet Tibergien notes healthy revenues are a harbinger of robust business. When market conditions improve, profit margins should widen

noticeably. "The very good firms are finding ways to grow the top line and become fortified for the next growth cycle," he says.

Among the important things successful advisors are doing, according to the study, is developing a key strategy and making financial planning the core of their business as opposed to asset management. "Those firms that got away from that tend to be suffering," Tibergien says. "Those are the firms that went after collecting assets rather than practicing what they grew up to be."

Also, as the following examples reveal, successful firms come in all shapes and sizes.

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