A new study suggests that the asset management industry is headed for a restructuring that will differentiate services according to the sophistication of clients.

The study says, in essence, that the industry may be headed toward a day when it offers two basic types of services: those for professionals and non-professionals.

"Different client needs require different business models, and few asset managers will be able to manage both simultaneously," says Scott McDonald, director of Mercer Oliver Wyman, a financial services industry consulting firm that issued the study. "Most large firms today are a blend of the two. This is unsustainable."

The study notes that segments of the retail market have grown so sophisticated that there's no longer a basis for the traditional industry split between institutional and retail clients.

The study defined "non-professional" clients as those having limited financial training and motivated by complex, often non-investment related factors. "Professional" clients were defined as those with a good understanding of their own goals and requirements, and knowledgeable of financial theory.

The main drivers of success in the non-professional sector, the study predicts, will be "scale and brand, rather than performance." The professional client, meanwhile, will focus on performance, the study states.

"Because scale and performance in asset management are essentially incompatible within the same business model, the non-professional and professional segments need to be managed as separate businesses going forward," the study says.