RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


Industry Trends

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. 

COVID-19 Coverage

Continuation of Market Rebound Drives Most Categories of Publicly Traded RIAs Higher in Q3

RIA Market Update

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.

COVID-19 Coverage

Financial Advisors, Tell Your Clients to Gift Now!

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.

COVID-19 Coverage

Estate Tax Planning May Be the Next Surprise for RIA Community

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.

RIAs Rally After Worst Quarter in Eleven Years

The Industry Is Now in a Bull Market Following March’s Sell-Off

It probably doesn’t feel like it, but most RIA stocks are up over the last year. Over this time, we’ve had two bull markets and one bear market in one of the most volatile twelve-month periods. Against this backdrop, we discuss recent market performance, implications for your RIA, and a potentially improving outlook.

The Evolution of Rule-Based Valuation Metrics and Why They Still Don’t Work

One of our first blog posts addressed the fallacies of rule-based valuation measures in RIA transactions.  Our position hasn’t changed, but these so-called rules of thumb have certainly evolved over time.  In a recent podcast with Michael Kitces, industry transaction specialist Elizabeth Nesvold of Raymond James explains the history and rationale behind these changes.  For this week’s post we’ll discuss this evolution and why such measures are usually more misleading than meaningful.

COVID-19 Coverage

Why Are Small Cap RIAs Down 40% Over the Last Year?

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.

COVID-19 Coverage

RIAs Suffer Worst Quarter Since the Financial Crisis

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.

COVID-19 Coverage Current Events

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 Current Events

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.

Trust Companies

Trends with Independent Trust Companies

Independent trust companies are a growing segment of the trust industry.  While trust divisions of banks still represent about 84% of the trust industry, there’s been a trend towards independence that parallels that seen in the wealth management industry.  In this post, we highlight some of the trends impacting independent trust companies.

Trust Companies

Today’s Independent Trust Company

How Does Your Trust Company Measure Up?

As trusts have become more sophisticated, independent trust companies have become increasingly specialized with respect to trust administration.  Many independent trust companies today focus on specialized types of trusts or beneficiaries.  As part of this trend, trust companies are increasingly outsourcing investment management in order to focus on fiduciary issues. 

Current Events 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.

RIA “Comps” Don’t Always Tell the Same Story

Divergent Performances of LM, TROW, BEN, and AMG Show Industry’s Susceptibility to Company Specific Events Over Market Forces

Relying on comparable public company data in the valuation of your RIA can be tricky and the performance of the publics over the past 12 months bears that out. We don’t typically see a 40%+ increase in value (TROW) and a ~25% decline in a bull market (AMG) for two businesses in the same industry. So, it’s important to understand the impact of market forces but it’s more important to understand the unique nature of your business and what is in your control and what isn’t. This week’s post takes a deeper dive into this topic.

Margins and Compensation Wealth Management

Wealth Management: Then and Now

How the Wealth Management Industry has Transformed Over the Last Decade

As we enter the new decade, rather than taking time for self-reflection, we prefer to take a step back and reflect on the radical transformation of the wealth management industry over the last ten years. Wealth managers have been forced to adapt in order to maintain their client base and remain profitable, and while these changes have not been easy, they have transformed the industry into one that is more focused on its clients’ needs and better regulated to ensure the safety of its clients’ assets.

All Classes of Investment Management Firms Outperformed the Market in Q4

2019 Was Also a Bull Market for the RIA Industry

As good as the fourth quarter was for the S&P, it was even better for the RIA industry. All classes of investment management firms bested the market, which was up 10% for the quarter. Continued gains in the equity markets have allowed these firms to more than recover from last year’s correction, and many of these businesses are now trading at or near all-time highs.

Investment Management

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