For years, there’s been industry and media speculation as to whether smaller financial advisory firms can survive and how the future of financial services will ultimately be dominated by only the big players. The pundits have predicted that cost pressures and competitive influences will compel small RIA practitioners into being acquired by larger firms or eventually be forced out of the market altogether.
This, however, is proving to be a myth. Perhaps, if you think more darkly, these could even be scare tactics propagated by larger firms, intent on acquisitions.
Enabled by technology, lower fixed costs and an ability to achieve efficiencies, smaller firms cannot only survive—but thrive—quite nicely, thank you. In fact, smaller firms are often able to offer today’s investors greater responsiveness and a more satisfying service experience.
The myth of extinction is unmasked by the data. The vast majority of RIAs currently doing business are, in fact, smaller firms. According to the RIA Database, nearly 75 percent of RIA independent wealth managers have under $100 million in assets under management. And studies by FA Insight (“People and Pay,” 2015) and Investment News (“Compensation and Staffing,” 2015) reveal that some of the most successful and most profitable firms are solo financial advisors supported by just a few staff members.
Clients may also disagree that bigger is better when it comes to choosing a financial advisor. Many clients say that they prefer to work with smaller firms. They value the personal level of service they receive and the ability to know and work with the firm’s founding partners. With the large-firm scandals of the last decade and the 2008 financial crisis, investors seem less impressed with big firms and say they are more interested in a financial advisor with whom they can truly connect on a personal level.
How do the leading smaller firms thrive in an increasingly competitive industry? They employ technology as the differentiator and as a gateway to scale and profitability. Here are some common characteristics of successful small firms:
They take full advantage of technology. Today, smaller firms have access to a trove of cost-effective technology tools, and the best small firms use technology to stay competitive and profitable. Using a high-tech, high-touch custodian offering a wide array of solutions can help a smaller RIA reach great profitability while simultaneously weaving in best of breed specialty technologies like CRM, account aggregation and risk assessment tools. Trust Company of America is a tech savvy-custodian who embodies this approach.
They control overhead and maximize operational efficiency. Leading small firms limit the size of their staffs and use technology to leverage staff efficiency. Employing the right technology to automate back office tasks enables small firms to handle more clients per staff member. We regularly see advisors running a ratio of one person to greater than $50 million of AUM.
They simplify investment management. Leading small firms use model portfolios to implement their investment strategies, which enables them to leverage technology for maximum efficiency. By managing these models on the right technology platform, they can manage hundreds of client accounts in minutes, not hours or days. They can develop and manage multiple models in a single account, trade all accounts at once and rebalance hundreds of accounts in minutes with just a few clicks. And they can do it from a mobile device, like a tablet, while on the go.