Fancy new technologies and practice management consulting services have always been part of the spiel custodians and broker-dealers have used to recruit fee-based registered investment advisors.
What's different these days, however, is that RIAs seem to be listening.
"We've been trying to talk to advisors for a long time to think about efficiency and scaling," says Neesha Hathi, vice president of technology solutions for Charles Schwab Advisor Services. "When business comes in hand over fist, it's hard to sit back and focus on those things."
The Great Recession has given many advisors a harsh lesson in what it really means to run a business, which means they can no longer afford to focus solely on investment management and leave business operations as an afterthought. They're now looking for as much help as they can get-particularly from their clearing and custodial partners.
They want, for example, advice on how they can trim costs and streamline operations while they expand services for an increasingly demanding and discriminating clientele, industry observers say. They not only want to hear about the technology platforms that custodians and broker-dealers have to offer, they want to hear about the bells and whistles, too.
Advisors, in essence, want from custodians and broker-dealers the same things that clients are asking from the advisors: reliable service, transparent reporting and quality advice-all at a reasonable price. "What they really want is the value of their firm to be greater because they are affiliated with you," says Matt Lynch, president and CEO of Capital Analysts Inc. (CAI), an independent broker-dealer in Cincinnati, Ohio, that derives 65% of its revenues from fees.
The lack of focused business management in the fee-based advisory has been pervasive, says Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions. Pershing is currently finishing up a study that shows that just a small number of advisors were able to successfully navigate the last two years of economic and financial turmoil.
"During the five years leading up to the cataclysm, they were able to get a lift from the market, which camouflaged inefficiencies in how they managed," Tibergien says.
That's why, he says, there's been a noticeable increase in the number of advisors both looking to hire general managers and chief operating officers and pursuing mergers. Advisors who don't have the resources for these kinds of solutions are leaning on their custodians for help, he notes.
"There is no doubt about it-every single advisory firm suffered somehow over the last couple of years," Tibergien says. "The degree depended on how they were managed professionally."