RIAs entered 2020 from a position of strength and then Covid-19 hit, but most advisors are successfully incorporating the lessons learned in the pandemic into their businesses, according to Schwab’s 2020 Benchmarking Study, released today.

Technology is advancing at a quicker pace than it would have otherwise and advisors are learning to use it to maintain connections with clients, according to the speakers who unveiled the study during a Schwab teleconference.

The study is done annually to give advisory firms a look at how they measure up against their peers. This year’s survey included 1,010 participating firms with a total of $1.1 trillion in assets under management and was taken between January and April—one month longer than usual to accommodate opinions on the pandemic.

As an example of the good position firms are in, 73% of firms are still planning to hire more advisors during the next 12 months compared with 75% last year. Many of those hires are going to come from the ranks of competitor firms, said Lisa Salvi, vice president of business consulting and education at Schwab Advisor Services.

RIAs have had robust growth in the last five years in assets under management, revenues and the number of clients, the report said. Although Covid-19 has upended many plans, the top strategic priorities for advisors have remained consistent from prior years. Advisors want to acquire new clients, leverage technology to improve productivity, and enhance strategic planning, speakers said.

Advisory firms are focusing on organic growth of their firms, which helps smooth out the affects of the volatile market on their businesses, according to the study.

One of the most significant things a firm can do to be successful is to define the ideal client and make strategic decisions based based on that client profile, Salvi said. In addition, firms need to articulate their value to clients. Firms that did both gained 28% more new clients and 45% more new revenue than firms that did not have a well-defined client profile or well-articulated value proposition, the study said.

Even new firms that are not in a position to turn any clients away can start to build a practice designed for niche clients, Salvi said.

Firms have been adding services, such as tax planning, estate planning and lifestyle management, over the years, which deepens the client relationship, the study said.

One aspect of client relations that has changed because of Covid-19 is that advisors are having more in-depth conversations with clients, according to Travis Maus, the managing partner and a wealth manager at S.E.E.D. Planning Group, a fee-only independent RIA headquartered in Binghamton, N.Y. The firm was founded five years ago and now has $300 million in AUM. It realized a 42% growth in AUM last year.

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