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?

The Importance of Specialization in Investment Management: A Review of Philip Palaveev’s The Ensemble Practice

In an industry characterized by constant pressure to adapt to market conditions and offer highly specialized client service, many financial advisors still spend a significant portion of their time acquiring new clients rather than collaborating with other professionals. According to Philip Palaveev in his recent book The Ensemble Practice, the majority of financial advisory practices still function as “solos,” or one individual against the entire market. This practice is inherently problematic in its lack of sustainability and the problems it poses for an owner who desires to leave a legacy post-retirement.

Resolving Buy-Sell Disputes: On Being a Jointly Retained Appraiser

The closest we get to detective work at Mercer Capital is when we’re jointly retained to resolve a shareholder disagreement over a buy-out. Whether we’ve been court-appointed or mutually chosen by the parties to do the project, we’ve done enough of these over the years to learn that the process matters as much as the outcome. In this post, we discuss our process for handling such engagements.

Ambiguity in Buy-Sell Agreements is Expensive

Despite talented people, carefully developed business plans, and the best of intentions, not every partnership goes well, and some of those that don’t go well don’t end well either. When a partner leaves an investment management practice, the potential for a major dispute over the buy-out usually looms. Internally, at our firm, we sometimes refer to these situations as “business divorces”, even though the consequent acrimony often exceeds that of a marital dissolution. Here are a few mistakes we’ve seen others make, in the hopes that you read this and don’t do the same.

Why Should Your Firm’s Buy-Sell Agreement Require an Annual Valuation? It’s all about Expectations Management

A recurring problem we see with buy-sell agreements are pricing mechanisms that are out of date. Keeping the language in your agreement up to date is important, but the most reliable way to avoid some unintended consequence of your buy-sell agreement is to have a pricing mechanism that specifies a regular valuation of your RIA’s stock. An annual valuation accomplishes a number of good things for an investment management firm, but the main one is managing expectations.