One refrain we often hear from clients is how different they are from other investment management firms. We agree. Asset managers have a lot in common, but we see a huge variety of personalities, investment approaches, business plans, marketing activities, compensation models, etc. In short, every firm has a unique culture, just like families.
Industry News and Trends
The stock market rallied in the first five months of the year, with the Dow Jones and S&P 500 reaching record highs and continuing to climb. Nevertheless, IPOs remain scarce compared to prior years.
A question that we don’t hear enough RIAs asking themselves: what makes our best customer? The conventional wisdom we’ve gathered from talking with a wide variety of investment management firms over the years is that high net worth relationships make the best clients for RIAs. Relationships with individuals are supposed to be stickier than, say, institutional relationships where investment committees drop managers the moment their three-year performance lags the index. However, is it that simple?
As part of the analyst community that closely follows developments in the investment management industry, we were disappointed (but not surprised) that Focus Financial Partners pulled their S-1, again, and found a private equity recap partner instead of going public. Picking up on last week’s blog theme, Focus likes to tout their strategy of building an international network of efficiently connected wealth management firms as an “unfair advantage”, but it appears that their real capability is finding capital when necessary to avoid a public offering. Stone Point Capital and KKR bought 70% of the company, enabling prior private equity partners, affiliates who had sold their firms to Focus in exchange for stock, and employees with equity compensation to monetize their positions while Focus remains private.
After years of working with investment management firms of all shapes and sizes, it is our opinion that building the most value in an RIA comes down to the same thing: developing and capitalizing on some unfair advantage. That may sound unnecessarily mysterious or metaphorical, but it really boils down to examining the basic building blocks of firm architecture and finding out where your firm can excel like none other.
The First Quarter 2017 Asset Management newsletter has been released. This quarter’s newsletter focuses on the mutual fund sector, which has been plagued by asset outflows into ETFs and other passive strategies for most of the last decade. The first two months of this year do, however, offer a ray of hope as 45% of U.S. based active managers beat their relevant benchmark, resulting in February being the first month of inflows into active products since April 2015.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Year 2017! Here are this past year’s 5 most popular posts from the RIA Valuation Insights Blog.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maybe the recent trend has nothing on Rocky Balboa or Gordon Bombay, but the past few months have been promising for most publicly traded RIAs. Relatively stable market conditions and better than expected earnings are the likely culprits for the group’s “comeback,” which has the overall index up 13% since February.
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.
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