RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


Industry Trends

Wealth Management

Buy-Sell Agreement Basics for Wealth Managers

The Importance of Buy-Sell Agreements for Wealth Management Firms, and Why It Might Be Time To Revisit Yours

Over the next several weeks, we will be publishing a series of blog posts discussing the importance of buy-sell agreements and other adjacent topics for RIA owners.  Ownership is perhaps the single greatest distraction for advisors looking to grow with their firm, but it can also be an opportunity to align interests and ensure continuity of the firm in a way that is accretive for the firm’s founders, next generation management, and clients. In this week’s post, we emphasize how having a clear and effective buy-sell agreement is imperative to minimizing costly and emotional drama that may ensue in times of planned or unplanned transition.

Current Events

A B2B Fintech in the RIA Space Races to Market

Dynasty IPO Ticks a Lot of Boxes, and Begs a Few Questions

Last week we were surprised by a rare sighting, an S-1 filed by a prominent player in the RIA community. Dynasty Financial Partners seeks to raise $100 million in a public offering. The mercifully terse prospectus is less than 250 pages, and is recommended reading for anyone who swims (or fishes) in this pond.

Asset Management

Asset Management Firms See Strong Performance in 2021

The asset management industry fared well in 2021 against a backdrop of rising markets and improved net inflows. Strong performance in equity markets was a major contributor to this performance. In addition, 2021 saw modest organic growth, although there were significant variances by asset class. In this week’s post, we discuss these issues and present our outlook for the industry.

‘Twas the Blog Before Christmas…

2021 Mercer Capital RIA Holiday Quiz

As year-end approaches, we hope to spread some cheer with our annual RIA Holiday Quiz. There is a chance to win a prize with a perfect score! Don’t forget to supply your contact information so we know who to send the prize to. Merry Christmas!

How Does Your RIA’s Client Base Affect Your Firm’s Value, and What Can You Do To Improve It?

We’re often asked by clients what the range of multiples for RIAs is in the current market. At any given time, the range can be quite wide between the least attractive firms and the most attractive firms. The factors that affect where a firm falls within that range include the firm’s margin, scale, growth rate of new client assets, effective realized fees, personnel, geographic market, firm culture, and client demographics (among others). In this post, we focus on the client demographics factor, explain how buyers view client demographics, and explore steps some firms are taking to reach a broader client base.

In the Market for a Good Used RIA?

8 Tips for Being a Buyer in a Seller’s Market

A couple of times a week, we get calls from someone we’ve never met saying they’d like to talk with us about their RIA acquisition strategy. About half are RIAs or trustcos looking for expansion, and the other half are private equity or family offices. Very few are calling because they have a particular target in mind, fewer still have begun the process of negotiating with a potentially interested seller.

If your acquisition strategy these days is starting from scratch, you’re in a tough spot. There’s nothing on the lot, and what is available looks expensive. That doesn’t mean you should give up, though. In this post we offer some practical tips to pursue an acquisition strategy in this market environment, as well as the markets to follow.

Asset Management Wealth Management

Asset / Wealth Management Stocks See Mixed Performance During Third Quarter

After a Strong Summer, Public Asset Managers See Stock Prices Dip as Market Pulls Back in September

RIA stocks saw mixed performance during the third quarter amidst volatile performance in the broader market. In September, the S&P 500 had its worst month since March 2020, and many publicly traded asset and wealth management stocks followed suit.

In this week’s post, we illustrate what this means for your RIA and give a prediction on the outlook of the RIA industry.

Asset Management Current Events

“Permanent” Capital Providers Offer a Different Type of RIA Investor

Beginning With No End in Mind

The rise of “permanent capital” providers is both in response to and appropriate for the current environment of premium entrance multiples in the RIA space. While making a permanent capital investment doesn’t eliminate the depressive effects of current valuations on returns, it does help to mitigate them.

Absent self-imposed pressure to generate an exit within the foreseeable future, RIA investors can focus on opportunities for sustainable and growing distributions – the real value of investing in investment management.


Not Every RIA Buyer Is a Control Freak

Despite Conventional Wisdom, Some Investors Prefer Minority Positions

The pricing of minority transactions in the RIA space leaves some people scratching their head. Traditional valuation theory holds that investors pay less for minority interests than controlling interests. Reality suggests otherwise.

Consolidation in the RIA Industry

RIAs Are Being Acquired at a Record Pace, But Does That Really Mean the Industry Is Consolidating?

Consolidation is a theme that has a lot of traction in the RIA industry: that a growing multitude of buyers are scrambling to outbid each other for a limited and shrinking number of firms. With the rapid pace of deal activity in the RIA industry, you might expect to see the number of firms decline, as that is typically the norm for consolidating industries. But that’s not been the case in the RIA industry, at least yet. Despite consolidation pressures and record levels of acquisition activity, the reality is that the number of RIAs continues to increase, with formations outpacing consolidation.

Another way to track consolidation is to look at how assets under management are distributed across firms of different sizes, rather than at the number of firms. The industry hasn’t seen significant consolidation by this metric either. So what does all this mean for the industry? This post tackles that question.

To the Moon or Back to Earth?

RIA Valuations Have Increased Substantially Over the Last Year, but That Doesn’t Necessarily Mean These Stocks Are Overpriced

A few weeks ago we blogged about how RIA stock prices have increased over 70% on average over the last year. This rapid ascent begs the question if valuations have gotten too rich with the market run-up during this time. In this post, we answer this question.

Practice Management

Post-Pandemic Tax Planning for RIAs

Is It Time To Consider a Change in Your Corporate Structure, or Your Address?

Dynasty’s move from New York to Florida and UBS’s relocation to Tennessee got plenty of attention. Post-pandemic, we’re starting to hear of smaller RIAs contemplating similar moves. There’s plenty of opportunity, because most investment management firms still call high-cost, high-tax states home.

Current Events

Multiple Expansion Drives 70%+ Returns for RIA Stocks Over Last Year

Over the last year, many publicly traded investment managers have seen their stock prices increase by 70% or more.  This increase is not surprising, given the broader market recovery and rising fee base of most firms.  With AUM for many firms at or near all time highs, trailing twelve month multiples have expanded significantly, reflecting the market’s expectation for higher profitability in the future.  For more insight into what’s driving the increase in stock prices, we’ve decomposed the increase to show the relative impact of the various factors driving returns between March 31, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

Asset Management

Value Finally Outperforms Growth After Twelve Year Lull

Value Stocks Are Finally Besting Growth, But Is It Sustainable?

Growth-style investments have outpaced their value counterparts by a considerable margin since the Financial Crisis of 2008 and 2009.  Propelled by an 11-year bull market from 2009 to 2020 and additional lift to tech stocks in a work-from-home environment, growth investing dominated value-oriented equities until just a few months ago.   Now, the long-running trendline appears to be rolling over.   

Current Events Practice Management

Common Valuation Misconceptions About Your RIA

Old Rules of Thumb, Recent Headlines, and the Endowment Effect

As a financial analyst, a CFA charter holder, and a generally reasonable person, I know that Zillow isn’t accurate; but as a homeowner, I can’t help myself.  When I am walking around my neighborhood, I always have the Zillow App open, and am speculating about how the “Z-estimate” for my house compares to my neighbors’.  And, of course, my house always is better. Why? Because I own it.  It’s called the endowment effect.  I (as a homeowner) am emotionally biased to believe that something (my house) is valued higher than the market would ascribe, simply because I already own it.

And you, the owner of an RIA, may believe your firm is valued higher than the market value too, and old rules of thumb and recent industry headlines amplify the problem.

What Does “The Market” Say Your RIA Is Worth?

GameStop Theory in a Consolidating Industry

Long before Reddit investors discovered that you could Occupy Wall Street more effectively with out of the money call options than you can with tents, Porsche briefly turned itself into a hedge fund and used a similar tactic to try to take over Volkswagen.  The story sheds some light on how market pricing does, and does not, reveal the value of a business.  Benchmarking the value of an RIA off the behavior of a few aggressive consolidators has similar limitations.

RIA Industry Extends Its Bull Run Another Quarter

Continuation of Market Rebound Drives All Categories of Publicly Traded RIAs Higher in Q4 2020

Share prices for publicly traded investment managers have trended upward with the market since March’s collapse.  Aggregators fared particularly well over the last nine months on low borrowing costs and steady gains on their RIA acquisitions.  Traditional asset and wealth managers have also performed well over this time on rising AUM balances with favorable market conditions. Against this backdrop, we discuss recent market performance, implications for your RIA, and a potentially improving outlook.

COVID-19 Coverage

Silver Linings: Using Crisis to Improve Your RIA’s Health

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. 

Investment Management

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