RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


Current Events

COVID-19 Coverage Industry Trends

Don’t Waste This Crisis

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.

COVID-19 Coverage Industry Trends

Where Are RIA Valuations Today?

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.

Industry Trends Transactions Wealth Management

Don’t Get Distracted by Franklin/Legg and MS/E-Trade

Creative Planning’s Minority Sale is the Most Consequential RIA Deal So Far in 2020

It’s hard to imagine, but the most significant piece of news for the RIA community so far this year happened less than three weeks ago and is already almost forgotten: Peter Mallouk sold a minority stake in his firm, Creative Planning, to private equity firm General Atlantic.  The transaction is easily one of the largest, if not the largest, minority transaction in the history of the RIA industry, and potentially provides a blueprint for others to follow.

Wealth Management

Are Wealth Management Margins About to Get Buried?

SchwabiTrade isn’t the Only Threat to the Most Consistent Profit Stream in the RIA Community

It’s hard to see the advent of SchwabiTrade as a good thing for the RIA community – especially the wealth management community. If Schwab is looking to recapture margins from zero commission trading and low rates on sweep accounts, it need look no further than the ten thousand plus RIAs now in its eco-system.

Is 16x Pro Forma EBITDA a Realistic Valuation for Mercer Advisors?

Pre-season Soccer and the Mercer Price Tag are Likely More About Form Than Substance

We were intrigued (and skeptical) of the recent reports that RIA aggregator Mercer Advisors was looking to fetch a $700 million-plus price tag in a prospective sale by its PE backers at Genstar Capital. A 15-16x multiple on an estimated pro-forma, run-rate EBITDA of approximately $50 million results in a $750 million to $800 million enterprise value for the business, which certainly got our attention. Still, this figure could be meaningless if it’s an unlikely appraisal of Mercer Advisor’s current market value. For this week’s post, we’ll address our opinion from a fair market value and strategic value perspective.


One Year Later: The Focus IPO Reshaped the RIA Industry

Attention Drives Activity

It’s been a year since the Focus Financial IPO generated a similar level of conversation in the RIA community – and the transaction dominos have been falling ever since.  In that same year, Victory Capital pulled off a major acquisition, Affiliated Managers Group got back into the acquisition game following a two-year hiatus, United Capital was acquired by Goldman Sachs, and Mercer Advisors is soliciting bids.

I was thinking about all of this on a road trip across the southeast last week, in-between blasting Tom Petty on satellite radio and dropping in on a few clients.  At one of my first stops, a client asked if I saw a lot of M&A activity in the RIA space.  Yes, I replied, but I see even more headlines about it.  Plenty has changed in the RIA community in the last twelve months, but even more has not.

Wealth Management

Fidelity’s Latest Move to Stay on Top of RIA Trends

Fidelity’s Partnership with Merchant Investment Management

On June 10th, Fidelity Clearing & Custody Solutions and Merchant Investment Management announced a new partnership to increase wealth managers’ access to capital for acquisitions and growth initiates. The deal opens up a sizable new sales channel for Merchant, and in return, Fidelity’s behemoth platform tacks on a few additional selling points to entice M&A-minded RIAs. 

Will Goldman Sachs Pay 18x EBITDA for Your RIA?

No. But Goldman’s United Capital Buy Suggests the Consolidation Winds are Shifting

If there is one consistent story in these RIA rollups, it’s that building them takes longer than anybody expects.  Duran worked on building United Capital for nearly 15 years.  Some things require scale that cannot be acquired in one lifetime, however, and that’s where the CEO of Goldman Sachs, David Solomon, saw an opportunity.

Warren Buffett and the Intrinsic Value of Investment Management

A Few Reflections on the 2019 Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letter

In a world where non-stop financial commentary is as commonplace as it is tedious, one man’s market insights get an unusual amount of attention: Warren Buffett’s annual shareholder letter.   Buffett is an ironic icon of the investment management industry.  He’s made his fortune from active investment management, but regularly articulates his skepticism of the same.  He’s doubtlessly inspired more people to found RIAs than any other individual, yet his firm, Berkshire Hathaway, is not an RIA.  And his annual treatise on the performance of his company is full of common-sense wisdom that, based on Berkshire’s track record, is anything but common.

Asset Management

RIP to the Father of Index Investing

John Bogle’s Legacy Endures with the Prominence of Passive Investing

This week we say goodbye to perhaps the greatest advocate of passive investing. John Bogle’s contributions to indexing strategies and ETF investing have had huge impacts on both active and passive management, which we’ll address in this week’s post.

Wealth Management

Is Focus Financial an All-Terrain Investment Vehicle?

Management Claims Their Model is Recession Proof; Unfortunately, it isn’t Analyst Proof.

Last week was turbulent for equities around the globe, but Focus Financial (Nasdaq: FOCS) was hit particularly hard.  Less than five months since IPO, Focus closed Friday at $27.45, decidedly below where the offering priced at $33, and not much more than half the share price achieved less than three months ago.

Edelman/Bach Rift Highlights Challenges to RIA Partnerships

Partner-Level Conflicts at Firms of All Sizes Continue to Fragment the Industry

The recent controversy surrounding Ric Edelman’s cease-and-desist letter to his former partner, David Bach, is another reminder of how difficult it can be to sustain wealth management partnerships despite their (sometimes) obvious advantages.  This week’s post will explore the sources of these disputes and what you can do to avoid them.

Fidelity Wins the Race to the Bottom

Is Free the New Cheap?

After watching the price of trading drop for decades, it wasn’t so surprising when J.P. Morgan announced that it would offer free online trading for certain investors last month, but when $2.5 trillion manager Fidelity Investments announced they were going to be offering two “free” index funds, the industry rocked on its heels. Is this the next leg down for pricing of investment management, a publicity stunt by Fidelity, or something else altogether?

Summer Reading for the RIA Community

Focus Financial’s IPO Filings

Money, being what it is, never sleeps.  It also never goes on vacation.  I was, however, about to spend ten days away from the office with my older daughter in Scotland and England when Focus Financial (finally) filed for a public offering.  One of the most anticipated events in the wealth management industry, the pendency of the Focus IPO didn’t cancel my trip, but I knew that my vacation was going to be at least punctuated by reading the S-1 along with my peers’ commentaries.  I’ve now read the 275-page document a few times, and while it’s not your typical beach novel, the Focus prospectus is required summer reading for anyone in the RIA community.

Out with the Old and In with the New

Advice Rule Likely Successor to Recently Vacated Fiduciary Rule

Recent judicial decisions have all but nullified the DOL’s proposed regulation, and the SEC’s Advice Rule appears poised to be the likely successor.  This post explores the recent turns in this ongoing saga and what it might mean for your firm.

Your RIA May Qualify for the QBI Deduction, But Don’t Get Your Hopes Up

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) introduces the Qualified Business Income (QBI) deduction as a partial offset to the bill’s reduction in the relative tax efficiency of pass through entities (S corporations, limited liability companies, and partnerships) versus C corporations.  Still, many RIAs will not be eligible for the deduction, and those that do will have a lot to keep in mind as it pertains to reasonable compensation levels and investment income.  We’ll try to sort it all out for you in this week’s post.

Industry Trends

What We’re Reading about the Tax Bill

Most of the sector’s recent press has focused on the tax bill’s impact on RIAs, so in addition to our own writings on the matter, we’ve highlighted some of the more salient pieces we’ve come across regarding the tax bill as it relates to the asset management sector.

Practice Management

The Tax Bill Rendered Your Shareholder Agreement Obsolete

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has really shaken up the underlying economics of investment management firms and, with that, the value of those firms. As a consequence, many owners of RIAs have inaccurate ideas of what their firms are worth, and, worse than that, they have outmoded shareholder agreements suggesting the willingness to transact at inaccurate valuations.

Investment Management

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