Rarely a Monday goes by when our editorial staff doesn’t receive several announcements of mergers and acquisitions in the RIA universe. Decades-old predictions of pending consolidation in the advisory business are finally coming to fruition, even if there are still an estimated 10 to 20 buyers for every seller.

Last year’s fourth quarter might have provided a dress rehearsal for how RIA firms and their clients will handle the next bear market for equities—except that stocks went on to post what some have described as the fastest recovery in modern history this year. As senior editor Eric Rasmussen notes in this year’s RIA survey on page 35, the fourth quarter was sharp, but so brief it did nothing to derail most firms’ expansion plans.

Finding talented young advisors remains the biggest challenge for firms looking to grow. That’s one reason why acquisitions are increasingly seen as a way to add skilled people to enhance client service capacity. In the past, M&A transactions had often been viewed as a means to add clients and scale with an eye to greater efficiencies.

Marketing was long seen as a foreign language to the RIA business. Some viewed it as a tacky alternative to positioning yourself as a thought leader who could win new clients through referrals.

Today, that’s changed. Some giant firms like Creative Planning are doing national television advertising. Others are engaged in financial education and digital marketing.

Affluent clients also are becoming more sophisticated. Rasmussen quotes Robert DiMeo of DiMeo Schneider describing how wealthy individuals looking for an advisor to manage $10 million will sometimes put out a detailed request for a proposal that looks similar to a pension fund’s process.

Just as the RIA business looks very different from how it appeared a decade ago, the next 10 years are likely to be characterized by change that only accelerates.

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