RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


RIA Valuation Insights

Margins and Compensation Practice Management

Evaluating Your Firm’s Margin

An RIA’s margin is a simple, easily observable figure that condenses a range of underlying considerations about a firm that are more difficult to measure.  As much as a single metric can, margins reflect the health of a firm—indicating whether a firm has the right people in the right roles, whether it’s charging enough for services, whether it has enough (but not too much) overhead, and much more.  But when assessing your firm’s margins, it’s important to consider the context of the firm’s ownership and compensation structure and also the tradeoffs associated with margins that are too high or too low.

Practice Management

Speed, Velocity, and Momentum

The Best Measure of RIA Success

Market performance gives you speed.  Employee performance gives you velocity.  Practice management gives you momentum.  If you want to be successful, focus on building momentum.

Asset Management Industry Trends Margins and Compensation Mutual Funds

Can Active Management Survive a Bear Market?

The recent analysis by Bloomberg highlights the potential for a bear market to intensify the challenges faced by active money managers, including fee pressures, asset outflows, and growing competition from passive investing strategies. Despite headwinds and the rising popularity of passive products, the resilience of some active management firms suggests a future where the industry might see less competition and more opportunity for alpha. Despite higher market caps than in 2008, asset management firms face a contraction in earnings multiples, suggesting a complex outlook that balances risks with the potential for restructuring and consolidation within the sector.

Industry Trends Transactions

Consolidation in the RIA Industry?

A Look at Record-Pace RIA Acquisition

In the midst of robust M&A activity, the RIA industry defies typical consolidation trends, continuing to grow with new firm creation outstripping the pace of acquisitions. This expansion has been propelled by a shift from the broker-dealer model to a fiduciary model, alongside the allure of building valuable, saleable enterprises.

Alternative Assets Asset Management Industry Trends

Alt Managers Race Ahead

A Resurgent Year for Investment Management Firms

In the recent financial landscape, alternative asset managers have significantly outpaced other categories, particularly in the RIA sector, demonstrating resilience and impressive gains amidst market volatility. While traditional asset managers have seen some pressure, larger entities, especially those in private equity, experienced notable growth and stability, largely due to their robust structures and strategic partnerships. The current trends underscore the importance of understanding nuanced market shifts, what these developments mean for various asset managers, and investment approaches in an evolving economic climate.

Current Events Industry Trends Transactions

RIA M&A Update

Although inflation has begun to subside and the stock market has rallied after a turbulent start to 2023, elevated interest rates and macroeconomic uncertainty have contributed to a slight decline in deal volume so far in 2023. Despite the slight decline in deal volume, total transacted AUM increased. In this week’s post we discuss some of the contributing factors of this, and what it means for your RIA.

Industry Trends

Q3 2023: Alts Take the Lead as Other RIAs Lose Traction

Market Uncertainty and Fee Compression Trends Lead Investors to Take an Alternative Approach to RIA Investing

In Q3 2023, while most publicly traded asset and wealth management firms experienced share price decreases in tandem with the broader market, alternative asset managers stood out with about 10% growth. This deviation can be attributed to factors like market volatility since 2020, which has boosted demand for stocks of alternative asset managers due to their more predictable revenue streams. Furthermore, the shifting market conditions highlighted potential implications for individual RIAs.


A Shortcut for Tax Savings

Charitable Giving Prior to a Business Sale Yields Big Results

This post unravels how donating a portion of your RIA ownership before a sale can furnish you with a charitable tax deduction and minimize capital gains exposure. With practical examples, the role of Donor Advised Funds, and timely gift planning to bolster the value of your contribution, ensure maximum benefit for both you and your chosen charity, without the cumbersome tax burden.

Margins and Compensation Practice Management Transactions Trust Companies

5 Takeaways from the Association of Trust Organizations’ (ATO) 2023 Annual Meeting

During ATO’s annual meeting in New Orleans, industry experts weighed in on pressing topics for independent trust companies. Key discussions revolved around the limited impact of the FTC’s proposed ban on non-compete agreements, the potential advantages of AI in trust administration, and the unique financial trends and risks observed in the TrustCo sector. For those in the trust industry seeking insights on its current state, this conference provided invaluable perspectives and recommendations.

Industry Trends Uncategorized

What’s Driving RIA M&A?

Global M&A activity has plummeted, and RIA consolidators have seen skyrocketing debt costs and eroding capital positions. Despite this, RIA M&A continues with little abatement. In this post, we dive into the factors supporting the relative strength of the RIA M&A market.

Industry Trends

Where Is RIA Dealmaking Headed?

Matt Crow Interviewed for Barron’s Advisor Podcast

Steve Sanduski sat down with Matt Crow to talk about the state of the RIA industry for Steve’s Barron’s Advisor Podcast.  In the episode, Steve and Matt explore the main drivers of the recent M&A environment for RIAs, the pros and cons of consolidation, and when selling to a consolidator makes sense instead of pursuing internal succession. Enjoy!


What Can We Make of Goldman’s Brief Foray into the Mass Affluent Space?

In a surprising move, Goldman Sachs has sold its Personal Financial Management (PFM) division, aimed at mass affluent clients, just four years after acquiring it for $750 million. The division wasn’t as profitable as Goldman’s core asset and wealth management businesses, prompting a pivot back to their expertise in ultra-high net worth clientele.

Practice Management

Unpacking Your RIA’s Income Statement

Performance Measurement Is More than Profits and Losses

Measuring the financial performance of an RIA usually starts with GAAP statements, but it shouldn’t end there. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) have their place, but are too vague and nonspecific to provide much in the way of strategic direction for an investment management business. In this post, we propose a path to break down your financials into key performance metrics, giving your leadership a more constructive way to think about what builds value in an RIA.

Practice Management

Succession Planning: RIAs Have Options

The RIA industry is facing a potential succession crisis, with many firms still helmed by their founders and lacking in non-founding shareholders. Although succession planning is vital for the long-term success of these firms, it is often sidelined in favor of immediate growth strategies. This article delves into various solutions for RIA principals, from internal transitions to external acquisitions, highlighting their benefits and potential drawbacks.

Asset Management Margins and Compensation Practice Management

A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Compensation

Compensation Structures for Investment Management Firms Whitepaper

Labor is the single largest expense for any investment management firm, but beyond that simple fact, there is surprisingly little similarity regarding how the thousands of wealth managers, asset managers, independent trust companies, and investment consulting firms pay their people.  Compensation studies show considerable variances in how much firms pay for certain positions, and the character of remuneration — salary, bonuses, equity compensation, benefits — varies as a function of firm history, economics, and culture.

Margins and Compensation

Compensation Structures for RIAs

Part II

Part I of this series focused on variable or bonus compensation, this week we cover the equity component. If the other forms of compensation are meant to attract (salary) and retain (bonus) qualified talent, RIA equity is intended to align shareholder and employee interests while rewarding long-term contributions to firm growth and value. This structure inherently blends returns to labor (employee comp) with returns on investment (shareholder distributions) by its very design. It is typically the most complicated and misunderstood component of RIA compensation but can be highly effective when implemented correctly. 

Margins and Compensation

Compensation Structures for RIAs

Part I

The selection, implementation, and adaptation of compensation models significantly influence an RIA’s profits and the financial lives of its employees and shareholders. In part 1 of the series, we discuss the role of variable compensation, a critical component of RIA compensation models, in motivating employees and promoting business growth. We show how strategic incentive structures can better align the interests of employees with those of the company, effectively balancing risk and reward while fostering growth and resilience in varying market conditions.

Industry Trends Wealth Management

Trending: The Independent Trust Company

The independent trust industry has been flourishing, despite market turbulence, due to increased demand for trust administration services, the relative resilience of trust company fees, and demographic shifts favoring wealth growth. Companies are adapting to changes in the term structure of interest rates, benefiting from fee structures that provide stability in adverse market conditions, and capitalizing on the expanding pool of high-net-worth individuals. With evolving trust laws, growth opportunities tied to generational wealth transfer, and the importance of effective succession planning, independent trust companies are poised for a promising future in the competitive financial landscape.

Industry Trends Transactions

RIA M&A Update

The first half of 2023 witnessed a minor decline in wealth management M&A deal volume, but an increase in total transacted AUM and deal size, fueled by a surge in the number of deals with AUM over $1 billion and RIA partnerships with private equity firms. This robust RIA deal activity demonstrates the resilience of the sector in contrast to a significant decrease in overall M&A transaction value across all industries. As RIAs continue to offer a growth strategy for strategic buyers and investors, it is imperative for sellers to identify their motivations, the type of partner they seek, and align their goals with the buyer’s strategy to ensure post-transaction satisfaction.

Asset Management Industry Trends Wealth Management

Q2 2023: RIAs Finish Strong Following June’s Bull Market

Steady Interest Rates Calm Investor Nerves, Boosting RIA Performance

The second quarter of 2023 saw share prices for asset and wealth management firms reflect the broader market’s growth, particularly following the S&P 500’s transition into a bull market in June. However, smaller asset managers underperformed compared to their larger counterparts and the S&P 500, while earnings multiples for publicly traded RIAs saw an 8.8% increase due to a favorable interest rate environment and higher AUM balances. The upcoming report on Q2 M&A activity is set to provide further insight into these trends, and while comparisons with closely held RIAs require caution, focusing on core business practices can offer protection from market volatility.


Dust Off That Buy-Sell Agreement!

An Outdated Contract Is Hazardous to Your Wealth

This week’s post discusses the importance of regularly reviewing and understanding the terms of buy-sell agreements for RIAs, as these agreements can often become sources of contention when unexpected events occur. We highlight issues related to determining the transaction price during a buy-sell event, with scenarios such as fixed-price and formula pricing causing potential misunderstandings or disputes. We also offer advice on avoiding such conflicts, such as getting your RIA valued regularly to manage expectations and drafting fair pricing mechanisms, urging owners to familiarize themselves thoroughly with their buy-sell agreements.

Practice Management Transactions

4 Considerations for Your RIA’s Buy-Sell Agreement

Understanding the intricate complexities of buy-sell agreements can provide a basis for shareholder transactions and mitigate costly legal disputes down the road. We explain the pitfalls of rules-of-thumb based valuation measures, the importance of the ‘As Of’ date, the necessary qualifications of your appraiser, and how updating your agreement annually can manage expectations and avoid surprises. Stay informed and avoid the inevitable challenges by familiarizing yourself with these key components of a well-crafted buy-sell agreement.


Purchase Price Allocations for Asset and Wealth Manager Transactions

While closing a deal is an important milestone, it’s not the end of the process. After the ink dries on the purchase agreement, there’s a host of issues that the acquiror must address regarding the integration of and accounting for the acquired firm. In this blog post, we address one such post-transaction accounting issue. After a transaction, acquirers are generally required under accounting standards to perform what is known as a purchase price allocation, or PPA. This post explores the purchase price allocation process as it relates to acquisitions of assets and wealth management firms, highlighting the valuation considerations surrounding intangible assets like customer relationships, tradename, non-competition agreements, and the assembled workforce.

Current Events Industry Trends Practice Management Transactions

ISO: Cheap Capital

All Models Are Wrong, Some Are Useful

The much-ballyhooed consolidation trend in the RIA space is in a state of transition. Many acquisition platforms, fine-tuned in an era of zero interest rates and plentiful equity capital, are challenged in the post-ZIRP environment. Picking up on economist George Box’s observation that “all models are wrong, some are useful,” it’s worthwhile to survey the acquisition landscape and see what worked and what still works.

Investment Management

Mercer Capital provides RIAs, trust companies, and investment consultants with corporate valuation, litigation support, transaction advisory, and related services