Is human input in investment management a feature, or a bug? Our experience has been that human input finds unique solutions, secures and strengthens relationships, and ultimately provides clients with the best outcomes. Algorithms can be great tools, so long as their user has great skills.
Guest Post by Matt Sonnen of PFI Advisors
Early in the COVID pandemic, PFI Advisors published an article outlining how RIAs could perform an “Operational Diagnostic” to improve their profitability. Matt Sonnen wrote, “For now, advisors are focusing on exactly what they should be doing – guiding their clients through this turmoil and keeping them calm and focused on their long-term financial goals. When the time is right, however, I’ll forward this article to our clients so they can begin the work of focusing on the bottom line…”
Nine months later, most RIAs and their clients have recovered from the market volatility and ended up having a very good year, at least on paper. Now’s the time for RIA principals to consider how they can advance their firms to be ready to meet the next challenge with greater ease.
We’re featuring Matt Sonnen’s wisdom on operational best practices and business strategy in our upcoming conference, RIA Practice Management Insights, on March 3 and 4.
Executives Seek Revenue Streams That Aren’t Tied to Interest Rate Movements
COVID-19 adversely affected sector M&A for a couple of months when most of the U.S. was under shelter at home/safer in place orders. However, deal activity is recovering quickly and now could be further accelerated as banks look to replace lost interest income with fee-based revenue. An increasing number of clients on the banking side of our practice are showing interest in the wealth management space, and it’s easy to understand why. Long-term rates hovering at historic lows have significantly impaired net interest margins, so banks are exploring other income sources to fill the void. Wealth management is a natural place to start since so many banks already offer financial advisory services of one form or another.
Share prices for publicly traded asset and wealth managers have trended upward during the second and third quarters after collapsing in mid-March with the broader market. Alt asset managers have fared well over the last year as volatility and depressed asset prices have created an opportunity to deploy dry power and raise new funds in certain asset classes. Traditional asset and wealth managers have generally moved in line with the broader equity market, while leveraged RIA aggregators have seen more volatility, both up and down, as the market bottomed in March before trending upward.
Lower Asset Values Provide an Opportunity for Tax-Efficient Wealth Transfers Before November’s Election
Last week we covered Joe Biden’s proposed estate tax changes and their impact on family wealth transfers if he gets elected in November. Proper estate planning can mitigate the adverse effects of higher taxes on wealth transfers, but the window to do so may be closing if we have a regime change later this year. Further, the demand (and associated cost) for estate planning services may go up significantly in November, so you need to apprise your clients of these potential changes before it’s too late.
2020 Chicanery Never Ends
2020 has been full of surprises, and the third quarter is bringing more. The persistence of the pandemic and the consequent economic strain on many has shifted political winds in favor of the minority party. If these trendlines don’t roll over between now and November 3, we’ll have a new executive and legislative regime and, with it, a redirection of tax policy. It’s not too early to start thinking about what impact certain legislative changes will have on the RIA industry, especially with regard to estate tax law.
Despite the global pandemic, the long-term outlook for most alternative asset managers appears healthy due to strong investor interest and emerging opportunities caused by market dislocation. In the near term, however, managers with large exposure to highly affected industries, or those that have seen large asset outflows, are likely to see their valuations decline. Managers with less exposure to highly affected industries and those whose strategies and fundraising are poised to benefit from the current environment are likely to see valuations increase.
RIA M&A Amid COVID-19 (Part II)
The outlook for RIA M&A at the end of the first quarter was murky. As anticipated, previously announced deals in the final stages of negotiations did close despite COVID-19, but new deal activity slowed some in the second quarter. Interestingly, independent RIAs, rather than consolidators, drove much of this deal activity.
We spent some quality time with the SBA’s release of PPP borrower data to see what impact the program has had on the investment management industry. After scrubbing out some misclassified businesses, we found more than 2,400 program participants (RIAs, trust companies, financial planning firms, etc.) that borrowed at least $150,000 (a separate release covered smaller loans). Even though the borrower pool is relatively small (there are at least 10,000 RIAs that aren’t participating), the demographics of the pool are telling.
Is Volatility the New Normal?
If one thing has become clear, it’s that market volatility is here to stay – at least for a while. In this post, we explore what this volatility means for you and for your RIA.
RIAs are Taking Advantage of this Time to Revisit Shareholder Agreements
You’ll probably find that the “downtime” afforded by working remotely and traveling less is a perfect time to clean up some practice management issues, including your buy-sell agreement. So pull your shareholder agreement out and compare it to our whitepaper.
In order to mitigate the potential impact of the COVID-19 crisis, many RIAs applied for and received loans under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) established by the CARES Act. Now that the loans have been received and disclosure is strongly advised (if not mandated), many RIA owners are wondering what signaling effect the loans will have on clients. Will clients view PPP loans as a sign their advisor is experiencing financial strain or on the verge of financial insolvency? Or will clients view it as a precautionary measure rather than a last-ditch effort to stay afloat financially?
Most Investment Managers Remain in Bear Market Territory Even as the Broader Market Recovers
Believe it or not, the S&P 500 is exactly where it was a year ago. It’s been a wild ride, but most diversified investors probably haven’t done as bad as they think during this time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the RIA industry, which is still reeling from the Coronavirus pandemic and numerous other industry-specific headwinds. Such a divergence is unusual for an industry tied to market conditions, so this week we analyze the driving forces behind this disparity.
Investors Quarantine Their Positions Despite the Search for Income, Strong Fundamentals
Since the Coronavirus pandemic settled into the American consciousness in mid-March, industry pundits have been actively musing about the impact of the crisis on the RIA community. RIA operations are mostly unaffected by this pandemic, and RIA financial performance has been supported by massive central bank intervention. None of this explains the pricing of publicly traded RIAs, however; especially when you look at the impact that slumping valuations have had on RIA dividend yields.
Falling Asset Prices Threaten Profitability as Spotlight Turns to Relative Performance
Active managers have generally underperformed their benchmarks over the past 10 years, which has driven outflows into low-fee passive products. The extreme financial market volatility and dispersion over the last two months has created major price dislocation and the potential to generate outperformance. The current environment may well be the time for active managers to prove themselves by protecting clients’ assets relative to index performance and justifying their fees.
In this post, we look back at RIA transactions that occurred in Q1 2020 and venture what M&A will look like over the rest of the year.
Most RIA Stocks are Now in Bear Market Territory
Last quarter we blogged about how great 2019 was for the RIA industry. Recent events have rendered that blog post largely irrelevant, as discussions in the industry are now centered on how the COVID-19 global pandemic has impaired RIA valuations. This post summarizes the effect it has likely had on RIA valuations.
Tune Your Business Model for Greater Resiliency
The value of RIAs and the future of transactions in the industry ultimately comes down to the health of the individual firms. Fortunately, there is a relatively straightforward way to assess the financial well-being of your firm, and ways of taking corrective action if your firm’s future is threatened.
Matt Crow's Podcast Interview with Mindy Diamond
This is our first blogpost in three weeks. As the Coronavirus pandemic set in across the United States, Mercer Capital adjusted to working remotely about as smoothly as I could have hoped. The RIA team here at Mercer Capital struggled to find appropriate topics to cover in our weekly blog. Regular “business as usual” topics seemed out of place, and writing about very current events, like the massive dislocations in the structure of markets, isn’t why our readers spend their precious minutes absorbing our blog. For a couple of weeks, it seemed better to say nothing than to say the wrong thing. Fortunately, Mindy Diamond of the financial advisory recruiting firm, Diamond Consulting, asked if I would help her with a podcast about the impact of the pandemic on RIA valuations and, consequently, on transaction activity.
If you don’t subscribe to the Diamond podcast, Mindy hosts the all-stars of the RIA universe like Shirl Penney, David Canter, Mark Tibergien, and Liz Nesvold. Mindy also throws in a few mere mortals such as myself for variety – and digs until she gets well past the talking points. I hope you enjoy listening to this as much as I enjoyed the interview.