Few industries are as susceptible to market conditions as the typical RIA. With revenues directly tied to stock indexes (in the case of equity managers) and a relatively high percentage of fixed costs, industry margins tend to sway with market variations. While the concept of operating leverage is not new to anyone in the asset management industry, it is easy to forget how easy it is for margins to collapse in a market downturn.
RIA Valuation Insights
A weekly update on issues important to the Asset Management industry
Mercer Capital had a great time sponsoring the Southern Capital Forum on Lake Oconee last week. The annual gathering of the venture community is a favorite to check in with many of our clients and get a read on capital markets from some intentional listening. Beautiful weather and the bucolic surroundings of Reynolds Plantation helped, and on the second day of the conference, Janet Yellen kept her foot on the cost of capital. So what’s not to like? Despite the generally upbeat attitude of the sponsor community, and plenty of planned fund raisings, we heard one theme repeated over and over again that threatens the broader asset management world: stretched valuations.
In the two short years since Aileen Lee introduced the term “unicorn” into the VC parlance, the number of such companies has steadily increased from the 39 identified by Lee’s team at Cowboy Ventures to nearly 150 (and growing weekly) by most current estimates. Pundits and analysts have offered a variety of explanations for the phenomenon, with some identifying unicorns as the sign that the tech bubble of the late 1990s has returned under a different guise, others attributing the existence of such companies to structural changes in how innovation is funded in the economy, and the most intrepid of the group suggesting that the previously undreamt valuations are fully supported by the underlying fundamentals given the maturity and ubiquity of the internet, smart phones, tablets, and related technologies.
On May 20, 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission proposed new rules and amendments to modernize and enhance information reported by investment companies and investment advisers. The proposed rules would be applicable to most investment companies registered under the Investment Company Act of 1940 and all investment advisers registered under the Investment Advisers Act of 1940.
In this week’s blog, we present a new whitepaper with some summary thoughts on the valuation of RIAs. Understanding the value of an asset management business requires some appreciation for what is simple and what is complex. On one level, a business with almost no balance sheet, a recurring revenue stream, and an expense base that mainly consists of personnel costs could not be more straightforward. At the same time, asset management firms exist in a narrow space between client allocations and the capital markets, and depend on revenue streams that rarely carry contractual obligations and valuable staff members who often are not subject to employment agreements. In essence, RIAs may be both highly profitable and prospectively ephemeral. Balancing the particular risks and opportunities of a given asset management firm is fundamental to developing a valuation.
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