It is almost certain there will be fewer independent advisory firms in the next 36 months than there are today. Turbulent times and protracted market downturns weed out businesses unprepared for periods of rapid change and increasing complexity—particularly if advisors put their heads down and push things along the way they always have.

This has happened before. The Great Shift from commission revenue to assets under management in the 1990s led to the mass extinction of advisors who made a great living selling high-commission products. The 2000 Tech Wreck eliminated many advisors who succumbed to portfolios heavily weighted to emerging tech firms that measured success in eyeballs rather than profits. The Great Recession killed off financially feeble firms unprepared to withstand a protracted reduction in revenues and saw a distinct thinning of advisors whose value proposition was focused on performance over planning.

An Accelerated Pace
We are now in the early stages of the profession’s next evolution, driven by a global pandemic and alarming levels of market volatility. Trends that were slowly grinding through the profession are seeing sudden acceleration:

The shift from relationships determined by investments to ones determined by advice has made it to prime time. The crisis has put platforms like Zoom on the map, and it’s putting advisors there too. People are locked in their homes, confronting the daily reality of their financial needs—and thus their need for financial advice. We’re already seeing an increase in demand for it, and suspect a surge after the lockdown.

Interest in differentiated offerings has grown. Advisors can expect growth in the demand for specialized advice and client experiences as consumers emerge with a more pronounced me-centric perspective.

The pandemic has exposed the AUM revenue model as inadequate to reflect an advisor’s value. Revenues are declining at just the time advisors are seeing critical spikes in client service demands, when they most need presence of mind.

Younger and more forward-looking advisors have begun the shift to lighter virtual service models that appeal to broader consumer segments. That’s led to an increase in retainer and subscription fees as these advisors seek to meet the needs and preferences of the next generation of clients.

Advisors are seeing pricing compression at the same time they face demands for service expansion—in other words, they’re being pressed to do more work for the same fees while managing increasing costs, complexity and mounting demands on their time. Firms of all sizes are scrambling to reduce costs, deliver greater value and drive growth.

The pandemic has forced advisors to better understand their clients, whom to call in what order, what actions need to be taken for which clients affected in what ways, and what messages and by what means to best communicate with different types of clients. Firms of all sizes will increasingly rely on prospect and client data to deliver deeper, more specialized services while driving growth and maintaining margins.

Our once slow trend toward remote connectivity and a virtual business landscape will now hurl forward with rocket ship velocity. Lockdown-imposed work-from-home restrictions are causing advisors and staff to pick up their laptops and settle into makeshift home offices, evolving our thinking about virtual staffing, office space and costs. At the same time, consumers are developing en masse comfort with remote technology like Zoom and with the idea of working remotely with a specialist rather than with the generalist next door. The word I use is “remotability”—the ability of employees, vendors and companies to successfully support remote working relationships. Increasing “remotability” reflects people’s ability to work with freedom and flexibility while maximizing productivity.

The Secret To Survival? Mindset.
What characteristics will we see in the survivors of this latest extinction event? Having weathered the market downturns of 2000 and 2008, I’ve learned it’s not the trends, technical expertise or tactics we take that determine our success. It's the quality of the thoughts that lead to them in the first place.

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