Advisors ramp up their game to ensure assets stay with them.

Unlike some of his colleagues in the planning world, Marr Leisure isn't waiting for trust assets to drop into his lap randomly. In fact, he's in the process of converting almost all of his clients' assets to trust assets, using Schwab Institutional's soon-to-be-introduced platform for trading and accounting. It's technology that Leisure helped beta test earlier this year.
"We're preparing now for the end game in 2011 when the estate tax roars back," says Leisure, who helms Leisure Capital Management, an advisory firm managing $250 million in Costa Mesa, Calif.-almost all of it trust assets. "We're doing all the legwork up front so we can have the accounting done and increase the cost basis for clients, a critical element when kids start inheriting assets after 2010," says Leisure, who marvels at how well trusts fit his wealthy clients' needs and help him acquire new assets. His average client these days has investable assets of some $2.5 million.
Broker-dealers are marveling at the growth in trusts, too. With trusts assets climbing over 20% at many broker-dealers at the half-year mark, firms are unequivocally happy to be in the trust business these days, too.
Opportunities for advisors abound, especially those working with baby boomers, says Cathy Clauson, Schwab's vice president of product development. To assist them, Schwab Institutional will roll out its new trust accounting and tax reporting platform and its Schwab personal trust division and corporate trustee capacity by year-end. Through the second quarter, advisors have custodied a tidy $34 billion in new assets with Schwab, for a 28% increase, Clauson says. Overall, Schwab holds $287 billion in trust assets, which constitute 40% of the firm's overall nonretirement funds. Clauson says she believes that the industry is just at the very tip of explosive growth when it comes to trust assets.
Currently, there are some $3.3 trillion in trusts nationwide. That's expected to more than double to $7 trillion by 2010. Another phenomenon worth watching, according to Chicago-based Spectrem Group, is the fact that banks are losing ground steadily to broker-dealers. In fact, the number of trusts at banks has declined more than 25% since 2002, Spectrem is reporting. Banks' loss is broker-dealers' gain, analysts agree.
The reasons for the growth in advisor-managed trusts and other types are multifaceted, Clauson and other trust executives say. One motivation is advisors' newfound and growing interest in the trust arena. While a percentage of advisors who have worked with the very wealthy have managed trusts for years, a growing sophistication and complexity in people's lives, along with escalating wealth and an aging population, make trusts a necessity for a far wider swath of the U.S. population these days. And advisors are taking advantage of it, Clauson says.
"I spoke with an advisor in New York recently who said they're checking all their clients' trust documents to see how assets would transfer upon the client's death, and found that a number of banks that don't even exist anymore were named as successor trustees. That's not good for anyone," Clauson says. "It's a real service that advisors can provide if they're asking if trusts need to be updated or changed, and determining whether relationships need to be built with successor trustees or if new, advisor-friendly corporate trustees need to be named."
How critical is this diligence? Very critical, say advisors, because if a client dies and the named corporate trustee is a trust bank, there is every likelihood that the bank will take over asset management. "That's why it's important for advisors to do this legwork before and not after clients are infirm or pass away," says Tom Berry, senior vice president of LPL's private client services. "The last thing in the world clients want most of the time is for strange folks to take asset management of their legacy away from their trusted advisor. But if these issues aren't addressed before illness or death, it's very difficult to stop that train."
Berry, who oversees the trust company that LPL acquired several years ago, saw more than $120 million in new trust assets flow in the door in the first six months of the year, for a total of $675 million on the retail side. He says he expects to see "a continuation of the 100% growth per year in the next several years. What will lead to explosive growth is advisors and their ability to create trusted relationships with clients and their heirs," Berry says.
Scott Groom, founder of Groom's Wealth Management in Mill Valley, Calif., says the many advantages of working with LPL's integrated platform and trust company enticed him to leave the wirehouse where he had worked for many years. "I find it allows me to serve my customers at the highest level," he says. "It's completely collaborative and turnkey, and we have totally open architecture, which is often a weakness at wirehouses or banks where you have one or more of their proprietary funds dragging down performance."
The drag on performance is a competitive advantage to anyone working independently with one of the broker-dealer platforms, Groom says. "We often find with existing clients that their trust needs are being poorly served with proprietary investments, so moving the trust allows me to manage the assets," he says. "At the same time, it allows us to attract and win trust business. As fiduciaries, we have a responsibility to insert LPL's private trust company into clients' trust documents so we can perpetuate the relationship we've developed over the years."
Groom also credits the synergy LPL's trust platform provides with allowing him to grow his assets. The firm currently manages $90 million, with $10 million in trust assets "and another $20 million in client trust assets we'd like to move because of poor servicing and investment performance. Once you get the ball rolling, it hits you: Why not go after $10 million and $20 million accounts?"
Groom says trying to win and manage trust business when he worked at a wirehouse was "the polar opposite-incredibly cumbersome, with limited investment choices."
Fidelity's Gary Gallagher says the phenomenal growth in trust assets is still just in its infancy. "With all the wealthy boomers and the need for estate planning, we're just beginning to see growth in trusts," says Gallagher, who is Fidelity's senior vice president of product management.
Fidelity has seen its trust assets increase some 71% to $58 billion in the past 18 months, says Gallagher, who credits advisors, along with trust banks, with delivering the bulk of the assets.

Staying on top of the market is critical for advisors, he adds, since recent research has shown that 70% of investors with assets of $1 million or more use trusts and 60% of households with $500,000 to $1 million use them. "I think it's still an area where advisors are embracing trusts at different levels, but what's important to remember is, if they're not talking to their clients about trusts, someone else is," Gallagher says.

Schwab's Clauson agrees, and says advisors are in a fantastic position to make sure clients' needs and wishes are met. "Advisors are very client driven," he explains. "At a time when clients need them most, after a death in the family, the last thing you want when the living trust passes is for a corporate trustee to pull the account, so the advisor is cut out of the picture and can't ensure the widow is getting paid and investment management done with a level of independence."
The complexity of people's lives is also spurring the creation of trusts. With second and third marriages and financial responsibilities woven throughout a multitude of blended family situations, it's very difficult for many families to do legacy planning and ensure their estate and income wishes are carried out without trusts, Clauson says. "That's one of the reasons we've created a corporate trustee capacity, so that advisors and their clients have some place to turn and don't have to rely on Uncle John, who may never have liked your second wife or one or more of your kids."
Dave Ness, president of Raymond James Trust Companies, is predicting a 21% increase in the firm's trust assets by year-end, and is expecting to add close to $350 million to the $1.250 billion trust assets custodied at the firm. "There are a couple of trends worth noting," Ness says. "Our average account size has grown to just over $1.2 million, reflective of so many folks in this country getting richer. At the same time, everyone is getting older, so we think a certain amount of trust business will come your way just by virtue of being in the business a number of years."
Still, Raymond James is hoping to increase that growth exponentially. More than 2,000 advisors have been through the Trust 101 School that Raymond James offers. We're running this about six times a year in desirable geographic locations and believe this will help more advisors really penetrate the trust market," Ness says.