RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


RIA Valuation Insights

Current Events Transactions

Why Haven’t Higher Interest Rates and Inflation Derailed RIA Dealmaking Activity?

Just over 30 years ago, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (“MATA”) made the dubious decision to construct a trolley line traversing most of the city’s downtown area, and it hasn’t gone well. If MATA could do it all over again, I suspect they would permanently closed the trolley system altogether, given the issues they’ve had over the years. Last year, many RIA industry participants expected a similar cessation to dealmaking in the sector following the adverse impact of higher interest rates and inflation on investment managers’ AUM balances and profitability in 2022.  Fortunately for the industry’s bankers, these economic headwinds haven’t derailed the sector’s M&A momentum.

Transactions Valuation

Selling Your RIA? Five Ways to Bridge the Valuation Gap

Before parties to an RIA transaction can close, they must first agree on a price.  Narrowing that bid/ask spread is tricky, which is often why negotiations between prospective buyers and sellers fail.  Buyers and sellers naturally have different perspectives that lead to different opinions on value:  Where a seller sees a strong management team, a buyer sees key person risk. Unsurprisingly, these different perspectives on the same firm lead to varying opinions on value, and the gap can be substantial.  Bridging that gap is key to getting a deal done.  We address five ways buyers and sellers can bridge a valuation gap. 

Margins and Compensation Practice Management Transactions

Formula Pricing Gone Wrong

What Happens If Your Buy-Sell Agreement Prices Your Firm Too High or Too Low?

More often than not, the formula prices we encounter do more harm than good. The simplicity of formula pricing equations means they don’t consider important factors like debt, non-recurring items, loss of key staff or large customers, market conditions, or offers to purchase. Formulas can ground expectations but may set expectations unrealistically low or high, provide a false sense of security, and encourage partner behaviors that do not support the business model.

Asset Management Practice Management Transactions

Are Toxic Cultures the Silent Killers of the Asset Management Industry?

We’ve written about the external headwinds facing asset managers relative to other sectors of the investment management industry with scant reference to what actually causes many of them to fail: toxic cultures.  As valuation analysts, we’re more fixated on the quantitative measures of an asset management firm, like investment performance and client retention, so we often turn to actual industry participants to get the story behind the numbers.  Paul Black, CEO of WCM Investment Management, a $67 billion asset manager headquartered in Laguna Beach, California, provides great insights on the impact of culture on the viability of a money management firm.


Internal Transactions Are Still an Option for RIAs

With a constant stream of headlines about M&A and near-daily inquiries from prospective acquirers, it’s easy for RIA owners to get the impression that external transactions are the norm.  While internal transactions don’t generate headlines, prospective buyers (next-gen management) likely aren’t beating your door down to close a deal. While they may be less conspicuous, internal transactions are a viable avenue for succession planning and one that many RIAs accomplish successfully. 


Should You Accept Rollover Equity?

Road to Riches or “Worst Idea Ever”

If you’ve been offered rollover equity as part of a sale of your investment management firm, this post should offer a few things to consider on your road to riches. Rollover equity has become a standard feature of deal consideration in the RIA industry. At one time, sellers were typically offered cash plus an earnout to sell their firm. Both of these forms of payment are still prominent, although cash consideration has waned. We expect rollover equity to remain a prominent feature of deal consideration for the foreseeable future.


What to Look for in a Quality of Earnings Provider for RIA Transactions

RIA dealmaking remains fairly robust, with a near-record year in 2023 and a significant uptick in year-over-year total transacted AUM during the first quarter of 2024.  In this environment, adequate due diligence is critical since the cost of corporate M&A failures is high for both buyers and sellers. A Quality of Earnings (or QofE) analysis is an essential component of transaction diligence for both buyers and sellers. Optimizing your transaction diligence requires assembling the right team. We discuss the five things RIA buyers and sellers should look for when evaluating potential QofE providers.

Alternative Asset Managers Asset Management Industry Trends

Market Resilience: Asset Managers Thrive Amidst Economic Volatility in 2023

Despite persistent inflation, elevated interest rates, and heightened geopolitical tensions, the asset management industry and the stock market as a whole saw a resurgence during 2023.  Our index of publicly traded asset management firms generally tracked the movement in the broader market, with stock prices for smaller asset managers (AUM under $250 billion) up 30.3% and large asset managers (AUM over $250 billion) up 22.0% over the year ended March 31, 2024, while the broader market (S&P 500) was up 29.9%. Read more about the market’s resilience and future outlook in this week’s post.


RIA M&A Update: Q1 2024

Following a year where deal volume in the RIA industry nearly matched the all-time high of 2022, RIA M&A activity cooled in the first quarter of 2024. RIA deal activity experienced a greater decline than the broader M&A market, with activity dropping 29% compared to the M&A activity for all industries, which fell 9%. However, despite the decline in the total number of deals, there was a significant uptick in total transacted AUM during 2024. Total transacted AUM through March 2024 was $139.2 billion—a 63% increase from the same period in 2023. Get the details in this week’s post.

Industry Trends

RIA Market Update: Q1 2024

With Valuations Up, Investor Interest Moves to Alts and Big-Name Managers

Share prices for most publicly traded asset and wealth management firms trended up alongside the broader market in Q1 of 2024. Alternative asset managers continued to outperform the S&P 500 and other RIAs, ending the quarter up about 12.6%. On a year-over-year basis, all sectors of RIAs experienced growth as the markets rebounded from the 2022 slump.  Read more for a full overview of RIA performance.


Revenue Share Transactions: Considerations for RIAs

Revenue share transactions offer a strategic option for RIA owners looking to monetize a portion of their firm without ceding control, addressing needs for succession, growth capital, and liquidity. This structure benefits sellers by allowing minimal operational interference post-transaction, as the investor’s return is tied to top-line revenue rather than bottom-line profit. However, revenue shares shift risk to common shareholders and require careful structuring to function effectively over time.

Practice Management

An Ontological Approach to Investment Management

Review of “Winning at Active Management” by William W. Priest et al.

“Winning at Active Management” by Bill Priest is an important book for managing a successful investment management practice. Emphasizing the importance of corporate culture, Priest argues against traditional command-and-control structures, highlighting that knowledge-based businesses like investment management thrive on intellectual contributions from all levels of the organization. The book provides a fresh perspective on the role of culture in mergers and acquisitions within the investment management sector, preaching that cultural compatibility is crucial for the success of such transactions.

Margins and Compensation

How EBITDA Margins Affect Revenue Multiples

Whenever someone asks us what their RIA is worth as a multiple of revenue, we respond by asking about their firm’s EBITDA margin. This week’s blog post explores how RIAs can enhance their value by focusing on EBITDA margin, revealing the pivotal role of profitability in investor attractiveness. It also provides strategic insights for balancing growth and profitability.

Practice Management Wealth Management

Employee Alignment Is Essential in Wealth Management

Employee alignment is crucial in asset and wealth management due to the industry’s reliance on human capital. Creating alignment between employees and shareholders is essential for the growth and success of these firms, particularly for firms with non-employee ownership. Effective compensation models and incentive programs can align interests, supporting the long-term growth and success of the enterprise.

Practice Management

Capital Budgeting for Team Building

Tools for Long-Term Greedy Practice Management

The recent cancellation of Apple’s decade-long “Apple Car” project underscores the opportunities that capital budgeting offers for strategic decision making. Capital budgeting is a modeling exercise that has applications in the RIA community as well, where resource allocation decisions are more likely to involve human capital as opposed to equipment. This week, we explore the concept of returns to labor versus returns to capital in investment management, illustrating how long-term strategic thinking about human capital can lead to significant returns using the same tools integral to decision making at industrial concerns.

Current Events

Will RIAs Be Subject to Anti-Money Laundering Rules?

The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is proposing a rule that would require investment advisors to comply with Bank Secrecy Act requirements, including implementing anti-money laundering controls and filing suspicious activity reports. Unlike previous attempts, this proposal does not hold investment advisors accountable for identifying their clients, but FinCEN is considering a separate proposal with the SEC for future customer ID requirements. With an increased push from regulators and illicit actors’ growing utilization of RIA intermediaries for AML purposes, the investment advisory sector may soon face stricter regulations, particularly regarding customer identification.


Reconciling Real-World RIA Transactions with Fair Market Value

When RIA owners think about their firm’s value, they frequently think in terms of the dollar value they believe they could sell the business for in an arm’s-length transaction. However, the nuances of real-world transaction terms in the investment management industry can often obscure what’s being paid for the business on a cash-equivalent basis. The details of transaction pricing—things like contingent consideration structures and thresholds— rarely make it into the trade press or RIA rumor mill, adding to the confusion. In this blog post, we explore various transaction structures employed in the industry and their relationship to fair market value.


RIA M&A: What Can Possibly Go Wrong?

A Very Incomplete List of What Not to Do in Transactions

In the RIA community, nothing gets people’s blood flowing like a transaction. Big mergers are fantastic, but even deals involving a few hundred million of AUM are widely reported. For all the hype, making M&A successful requires minding Ps and Qs, and is as much, if not more, about attention to detail and being realistic as it is about sweeping vision and uplifting pronouncements.

Industry Trends Wealth Management

Will Finfluencers Replace Financial Advisors?

The CFA Institute Research & Policy Center’s recent report reveals the significant influence of financial influencers (finfluencers) on the investment decisions of Gen-Z, underscoring the urgent need for the wealth management industry to adapt to the digital age. Highlighting a concerning gap, the report notes that a substantial portion of finfluencer content lacks necessary disclosures, potentially leading young investors to make decisions based on biased information.

Despite the challenges posed by finfluencers, the report suggests they offer a unique opportunity for RIAs to engage with the next generation of investors, advocating for strategic partnerships complemented by rigorous compliance and transparency measures. Read the details in this week’s post.

Current Events Industry Trends Transactions

Quality of Earnings Analysis for RIAs

The M&A space in the RIA sector has seen a marked increase in transaction activity over the past ten years, along with advancements in its supporting infrastructure. Professionalization of the buyer market has led to a more detailed examination of target companies’ earnings. Mercer Capital’s whitepaper highlights the importance of Quality of Earnings (QofE) analysis in presenting a more accurate picture of a company’s earnings and cash flows for both potential buyers and sellers.

Current Events Industry Trends

Navigating the Shifting Tides

Trends Shaping the RIA Industry in 2023 and Beyond

In 2023, the RIA industry witnessed growth and rebounded from the previous year’s slump, despite earlier concerns about inflation and high interest rates. This growth occurred alongside a shift in the financial landscape, where public firms in wealth management underperformed compared to the broader market and alternative asset managers. Additionally, RIAs have found the importance of data use, with many advisors using data to enhance portfolio decisions, operational efficiencies, and client relationships.

Industry Trends

The Remarkable Resilience of RIA M&A Activity

Despite challenging macroeconomic conditions in 2023, RIA M&A activity demonstrated resilience, with Fidelity’s November 2023 report showing a 3% increase in deals compared to 2022. The total transacted AUM saw a notable 25% increase, with an average AUM per transaction rising by 21%. Factors contributing to this growth included consolidation forces in the industry, confidence in the macroeconomic environment, and significant investments by firms such as Mercer Advisors and CAPTRUST, as well as partnerships with private equity firms.

Industry Trends

RIAs Finish 2023 with a Q4 Rally

Investor Interest Moves to Alts and Big-Name Managers

In Q4 2023, most publicly traded asset and wealth management firms saw share prices rise, with alternative asset managers seeing 21% growth, outperforming the S&P 500. Despite market growth, there was a decline in year-over-year revenue for most RIA sectors, attributable to fee compression. This report also highlights that larger RIAs (with AUM over $100 billion) generally outperformed the S&P 500, while smaller RIAs (with AUM under $10 billion) underperformed.

Industry Trends Insights

‘Twas the Blog before Christmas….

The 2023 Mercer Capital RIA Holiday Poem

It has become a tradition for the RIA team at Mercer Capital to end the blog year with a “unique” annual summary of industry events, riffing off Clement Clark Moore’s classic “A Visit from St. Nicholas.”  We hope all of you in the investment management community are enjoying the holiday season and looking forward to the many opportunities of the new year.  We look forward to hearing from you in 2024.  For now, please enjoy the finest only holiday poem written about money management.

Investment Management

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