Active Management Down But Not Out

Fresh off a 111-82 KO from the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday, our hometown Memphis Grizzlies are certainly battered but not totally eliminated from this year’s NBA title race. As this post goes to press, we still don’t know the outcome of Game 2, but it will undoubtedly be an uphill climb for the Grizz as it usually is against their divisional foes in Central Texas. Still, the Spurs/Grizz rivalry over the last ten years has not been nearly as one-sided as the battle for fund flows between active and passive investors in the ETF era.

Will the Fiduciary Rule Ever Become Law? | RIA Central Investment Forum Follow-up

Last week, Matt Crow and I presented at RIA Institute’s 3rd Annual RIA Central Investment Forum, and this question was asked to the crowd of 70+ industry participants in attendance. Only about half the audience raised a hand. This comes after another delay last week, further extending the rule, now set to go into effect June 9th. Even most of those at the conference who thought it would eventually become law thought this deadline was too ambitious. So why the delay?

Excuse Me, Flo? Inflows and Outflows Drive Disparity in Performance between Different Classes of Asset Managers

Immediately before ordering the Soup Du Jour and duping Sea Bass into picking up his lunch tab, Jim Carrey’s character in Dumb and Dumber, Lloyd Christmas, rudely accosts his waitress at the Truk-Stop Diner with this inexplicable reference to the early 1980s sitcom starring Polly Holliday as Florence Jean “Flo” Castleberry. Decades after the movie’s release in 1994, the market seems to be postulating the same question in pricing RIAs.

RIA Performance Metrics: Keep an Eye on Your Dashboard

A persistent truth about investment management is that no analyst ever saw a piece of information he or she didn’t want. Professional investors are, by their very nature, research hounds – digging deep into a prospective investment’s operating model, financials, competitive landscape, management biographies, and whatever else might be relevant to try to evaluate the relative merit of buying into one idea instead of another. This same diligence doesn’t always extend to practice management, though, and we are not infrequently surprised at how little attention management teams at RIAs devote to studying their own companies.

Looking through the Buffett Brouhaha: The Oracle Still Believes in Human Innovation

Since I gave up politics for Lent this year, I’ve had more time to keep up with the deeper recesses of the financial press, which led me to Warren Buffett’s annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett’s prose is a literary genre unto itself; a remarkably plain-spoken approach to making even the most complex and dull aspects of investment management simple and entertaining. If all “management letters” were penned as well, shareholders might actually read them. Perhaps that’s why they aren’t.

Investment Manager Pricing Takes the Scenic Route

Smaller public RIAs started and ended 2016 as a pack, but for about eight months performance was anything but similar. In what I can best describe as a wild ride to a close finish, at one point in July of 2016 Cohen & Steers (CNS) was up nearly 40% while Virtus Investment Partners (VRTS) was down over 30%. Seventy point divergences don’t happen very often, especially considering that, by Christmas of last year, the same spread narrowed to less than eight points.

RIA Matchmaking

Hardly a week goes by that we don’t get asked what we think are optimal qualities of an RIA merger partner. Answering that always feels a little like giving dating advice: different partners suit different partners. No one disputes that the industry is ripe for consolidation, but there’s no easy way to “swipe-right” on a target company’s ADV, and it’s pretty unlikely that sec.gov is going to have its own version of Tinder anytime soon. Nevertheless, in honor of today’s holiday, here are a few thoughts on what to think about when considering a merger partner.

ESG Investing Comes of Age Despite (or Maybe Because of) Trump

Investment strategies that screen for environmental, social, and governance criteria (ESG) is a still developing product niche that has, until recently, been more about talk than action. The pitch is that investing in businesses that demonstrate broad-based corporate responsibility provides a pathway to management teams who think long term, mitigate risk, and lead their industries. The beauty of an investment product like ESG is client stickiness.

Asset Manager Valuations Mixed at the Start of 2017

A quick glance at year-end pricing of publicly traded asset managers reveals a continued skid in cap factors for mutual fund providers offset by some multiple expansion for traditional and alternative asset managers.

Portfolio Valuation and Regulatory Scrutiny

Over the past decade, we have been retained by several investment funds to assist them in responding to formal and informal SEC investigations regarding fair value measurement of portfolio investments. Reflecting back on those engagements yields a couple observations and reminders for funds and fund managers as they go through the quarterly valuation process.

The Rise of Robo-Advisors: Part 2

As the second part to last week’s blogpost, the following section from Jay Wilson’s forthcoming book on FinTech describes ways to think about the valuation of robo-advisors, including some real world examples of technology based investment management platforms that transacted.

The Rise of Robo-Advisors

Despite the potential for FinTech innovation within wealth management, significant uncertainty still exists regarding whether these innovations will displace traditional wealth management business models. In this two part blogpost, excerpted from our new book on FinTech forthcoming from Wiley in early 2017, we look at the potential of Robo-Advisors and offer some thoughts on valuation.

Buy-Sell Agreements for Investment Management Firms: An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure

As difficult it is to imagine a valuable car such as the Ferrari 250GT SWB that we feature in this post being forgotten, what we see more commonly are forgotten buy-sell agreements, collecting dust in desk drawers. Unfortunately, these contracts often turn into liabilities, instead of assets, once they are exhumed, as the words on the page frequently commit the signatories to obligations long forgotten. So we encourage our clients to review their buy-sell agreements regularly, and have compiled some of our observations about how to do so in the whitepaper. We hope this will be helpful to you; call us if you have any questions.

What Donald Trump’s Presidency Means to the Investment Management Industry

The purpose of this blog is to consider the implications of the election for the investment management industry, which is no easy feat. The Trump campaign was generally heavy on rhetoric and light on policy details. The investment management industry rarely came up, other than when Trump suggested that he would advocate taxing carried interest returns as ordinary income. He never mentioned, for example, the DOL’s Fiduciary Rule, which is set to phase in three months after the inauguration. The clearest indication of what a Trump presidency means to financial services, so far, appears to be its impact on the banking industry.

What Hillary Clinton’s Presidency Means to the Investment Management Industry

Barring some extraordinary circumstance, in one week Hillary Clinton will be elected the 44th president of the United States. Her election will mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but since this blog is called RIA Valuation Insights, we’ll narrow the focus of this outlook on her upcoming term as president to the possible impact on the investment management community.

If the Pathstone–Convergent Combo is the Shape of Things to Come, RIA Heads Need to Remember that MOEs are Tricky

When firms of similar size join forces to get a bigger footprint, solve leadership issues, stop advisors from competing with each other, etc. – realizing those benefits is the easy part. The hard work happens because different firms have different histories, and different histories create different cultures. Blending cultures can be awkward, as in MOEs (mergers of equals). This guest post, by Jeff Davis, provides a checklist of dos and don’ts for MOEs that will ring true in the investment management community.

The SEC’s Proposed “Transition Plan” Requirement is One More Reason to Think about your Firm’s Ownership

By now you’ve probably read the SEC’s proposed rules on Adviser Business Continuity and Transition Plans. Most of the proposed rule simply codifies a reasonable standard for practice management at an RIA. Certain of the proposal’s requirements, such as IT management and being able to conduct business and communicate with staff and clients in the event of a natural disaster, are likely to be met with turn-key solutions from vendors. Of more interest is how the requirement for a “transition plan” in the event of the death or incapacitation of an advisory firm owner will be implemented.

The Market is Bearish on AUM Growth, but What if the Market is Wrong?

We have written at length about bearish signs in the RIA space, and valuation metrics seem to generally reflect a reduced growth outlook. We wonder, though, if things are really that bad. While, we suspect there is, over all, some phantom fee compression in the industry as assets are allocated to passive instruments and active managers who charge more don’t get the RFP they once would have, the other two themes focus on demographics and market outlook which are not, necessarily, bearish for the investment management space.

Gimme Shelter: Brexit Just Accelerates Downward Trend in RIA Valuations

Brexit’s full impact on the market is still to be determined, but a quick review of asset manager pricing reveals a valuation gap with the broader equity market that opened over the past twelve months, got much worse in June, and even accelerated over the past week. Sifting through the noise at quarter end, we pose, if market valuations in the industry are getting a haircut, what does that mean?