As the $3.2 trillion RIA market continues to grow at twice the rate of other retail advice models, Schwab executive vice president Bernie Clark believes advisors will continue to redefine their business models. Opportunistic innovators continue to enter the business with ideas of creating a magic model that can catapult them ahead of the field and mainstream advisors are watching to look for lessons they can incorporate into their own firms.

But one single statistic validates the way the RIA model is increasingly dominating the personal advice landscape. In Schwab's latest survey, 74 percent of RIAs rank other regional RIAs as one of their top competitors.

In contrast, only 46 percent cited wirehouses while another 43 percent named independent broker-dealers. A decade ago, wirehouses surely would have been viewed with more competitive respect.

Looking out five years, however, both wirehouses and independent brokerages drop out of the competitive landscape. Other regional RIAs still claim first place, with 66 percent citing them as a top competitor in 2018. But national RIAs come in second at 51 percent, up from 34 percent today, while online investment advisories surge to 45 percent, up from 17 percent now.

Even though they are older, many top RIAs are looking to grow their firms into sustainable businesses. "People see this as a very opportunistic space to be in," Clark said. "In the early 2000 era, I would talk to lots of people who were talking about selling their firm. Now they want to be a legacy firm with a next generation to take over."

There is little question that consolidation will play a part in this trend. Only last week, two Boston-area firms, Argent Wealth Management and Pillar Financial Advisors, merged to create a $1.2 billion business.

Clark calls these merged firms "combines" and acknowledges that in some cases it may take time to see whether the transactions work. "It can take five to seven years to effect some of these models because it takes that long for existing clients to get to know their new [advisory teams]," he said.

At the same time, both advisors and their clients are looking for ways to remain relevant. "The World War II generation retired. This generation stays in business," Clark said. "They have enough evidence on longevity [to know] that their usefulness extends beyond traditional retirement age limits."

This means that society as a whole may not want to have older Americans suppressing opportunities for the next generation. But it doesn't want to lose the intellectual capital of that generation either.