There are approximately 250 advisory firms with more than $1 billion in assets under management (AUM) in the financial advisory industry. No more than 30 of those have more than $5 billion in AUM. If you were to ask any such “super ensemble” (a billion-dollar AUM firm) what its vision is, the likely answer is that it wants to “grow to the next step.” For those at $1 billion, that means reaching $5 billion. For those at $5 billion, it means reaching $15 billion and beyond. There is no question that the largest firms are aggressive in their ambitions. The real question is, what changes do they have to make to reach the next step?

There are numerous surveys of the top firms in the financial advisory industry. Financial Advisor’s 2014 RIA ranking, to name one, lists 170 firms with AUM of more than $1 billion. Since the list relies on 2013 data, it’s conceivable that 20 to 30 firms have joined the club by the time you’ve read it. Fifteen firms had more than $900 million at the end of 2013 and with 11% growth in 2014, likely joined the super-ensembles.

Financial Advisor’s list is a survey—the participants chose to be listed when they supplied their information. Another list using ADV data contains 202 firms with more than $1 billion for the same time period (by the end of 2013). Several other lists show only the top 100 firms. Some lists exclude firms that receive commissions or are registered representatives of broker-dealers. That eliminates names such as Edelman Financial, HighTower Advisors, United Capital and even firms such as Plante Moran and Moss Adams—accounting businesses that own broker-dealers. If the hybrids were included, we would have approximately 250 super-ensembles across the country.

According to the 2014 Moss Adams survey of financial advisors, sponsored by Pershing, 47% of super-ensembles say their No. 1 strategic priority is revenue growth, while 12% say they are focused on mergers and acquisitions. Twenty-nine percent list organizational development—the internal view of growth—as their focus.

After witnessing some of the largest firms in the industry deal with growth, we believe there’s a path that a super-ensemble must take to reach $5 billion. And we believe that growth begins with a vision that unites a firm and its leaders.

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