RIA Valuation Insights

A weekly update on issues important to the Investment Management industry


Wealth Management

Asset Management

Asset / Wealth Management Stocks See Another Quarter of Strong Market Performance

Publicly Traded Asset / Wealth Managers See Continued Momentum Through Second Quarter as Market Backdrop Improves

On balance, the outlook for RIAs has generally improved with market conditions over the last several months. AUM has risen with the market over this time, and it’s likely that industry-wide revenue and earnings have as well. With markets near all time highs, most RIAs are well positioned for strong financial performance in the back half of the year. This week’s post details the past performance and outlook for traditional asset and wealth managers, alternative asset managers, as well as aggregators and multi-boutiques.


Fairness Opinions

Evaluating a Buyer's Shares From the Seller's Perspective

Stock consideration is rarely discussed in RIA transactions, but it is a common financing feature in other industries. We expect to see more stock for stock deals in RIAs for two reasons. As public investment management firm multiples continue to push higher, buyers will be tempted to take advantage of multiple-arbitrage in certain situations. And if capital gains tax rates rise and sellers can use rollover equity to defer gains, the structure will become more attractive to sellers. How can a seller decide whether or not to accept a suitor’s stock? Jeff Davis has a few thoughts.

Practice Management

Succession Planning for Independent RIAs

The Best Time To Plan Is Now

Succession planning has been an area of increasing focus in the RIA industry, particularly given what many are calling a looming succession crisis. The demographics suggest that increased attention to succession planning is well warranted: over 60% of RIAs are still led by their founders, and only about a quarter of them have non-founding shareholders. Yet, when RIA principals are asked to rank their firm’s top priorities, developing a succession plan is often ranked last. However, if you’re a founding partner or selling principal, it’s never too soon to start thinking about succession planning. Proper succession planning needs to be tailored, and a variety of options should be considered.


Purchase Price Allocations for Asset and Wealth Manager Transactions

There’s been a great deal of interest in RIA acquisitions in recent years from a diverse group of buyers ranging from consolidators, other RIAs, banks and diversified financial services companies, and private equity. These acquirors have been drawn to RIA acquisitions due to the high margins, recurring revenue, low capital needs, and sticky client bases that RIAs often offer. Following these transactions, acquirors are generally required under accounting standards to perform what is known as a purchase price allocation, or PPA. In this post, we describe what a purchase price allocation is and discuss the common intangible assets acquired in the purchase of private asset and wealth management firms – existing customer relationships, tradename, non-competition agreements with executives, and the assembled workforce.

Asset Management Transactions

FAIR … The F-word in RIA M&A: Part I

When Do You Need A Fairness Opinion?

Fair is often the first-four-letter word that most children learn, and it often leads to more arguments than other choice words. Although children eventually learn that life is not always fair, we spend a lot of time ensuring that major economic events are. Transactions are rarely straightforward, and as the pace of M&A activity in the investment management community continues to accelerate, more shareholders are scrutinizing both the pricing and terms of transactions. In this post (and in the next), we explain when you should consider getting a Fairness Opinion and what that involves.


Low Rates and NIM Margins Spur Bank Interest in the Wealth Management Sector

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.

Practice Management

Pandemic Practice Management Opportunities

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.

Current Events Industry Trends Transactions

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.


Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

Drivers of Valuation in Wealth Management M&A

Fidelity recently published a study on M&A activity in the wealth management industry highlighting sellers’ ambitious expectations of the value of their firms Fidelity’s conclusion: sellers of investment management firms often “don’t entirely understand what drives valuation.” In this post we hope to provide insight to the owners of wealth management firms on how likely buyers value their firm.

Industry Trends Margins and Compensation

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.

Current Events

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.

Practice Management


The Best Business Model in the RIA Industry Depends Not on Who You Ask, but Who’s Asking

Earlier this month we had the pleasure of participating in a panel discussion on the value of wealth management firms in a transaction setting for the CFA Society of New York.  In conversation after the event, one of the audience members asked me what I thought was the most successful business model to follow in the wealth management space.  It’s a question we hear fairly often, and I try to avoid punting on the answer and saying “it depends.”  In reality, though, it does depend.

Current Events

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. 

2019 CFA Institute Wealth Management Conference Recap

Last week, Matt Crow, Brooks Hamner, Taryn Burgess, and Zach Milam attended the 2019 CFA Institute Wealth Management Conference in Fort Lauderdale.  We didn’t get a total headcount, but attendance appeared to be up from last year’s event.  There are probably a number of explanations for this, but perhaps the most plausible was the interest in this year’s focus on the psychological side of wealth management, which explored behavioral finance tendencies and how emotional decision-making can impact investment performance.  For this post, we’ve elected to summarize some of these presentations and their implications for financial advisors.

Whitepaper Release: How to Value a Wealth Management Firm

Investment management is a younger profession than many, but it too has evolved and is evolving, into an industry of sub-specialties of manufacturing (asset management) and distribution (wealth management).  Wealth management is in a dynamic period, with changing client service models, challenges to profitability, the augmentation and distraction of technology, consolidation in some ways and fragmentation in others.

Recognizing this, we thought it would be useful to put together a whitepaper on valuation issues that are unique to the wealth management industry.  While there are certainly characteristics of wealth management firms that are common to all RIAs, there are enough distinctions to caution anyone from painting the profession with too broad a brush.

What Wealth Managers Need to Know About the Market Approach

The market approach is a general way of determining the value of a business which utilizes observed market multiples applied to the subject company’s performance metrics to determine an indication of value.  The “market” in market approach can refer to either public or private markets, and in some cases the market for the subject company’s own stock if there have been prior arms’ length transactions.  The idea behind the market approach is simple: similar assets should trade at similar multiples (the caveat being that determining what is similar is often not so simple).  The market approach is often informative when determining the value of a wealth management firm.

What Wealth Managers Need to Know About the Income Approach

There are three general approaches to determining the value of a business: the asset-based approach, the income approach, and the market approach.  The three approaches refer to different bases upon which value may be measured, each of which may be relevant to determining the final value.  Ultimately, the concluded valuation will reflect consideration of one or more of these approaches (and perhaps several underlying methods) based on those most indicative of value for the subject interest. This week, we take a look at how the income approach is used to value wealth management firms.

The Anatomy of a Wealth Management Firm

A Closer Look at a Business that Continues to Pivot with Client Needs

Wealth management firms have significantly evolved over the last several decades for various reasons. For purposes of this post, we provide a bit of history on the industry, basic characteristics of today’s wealth management firm, and take a look at recent performance.

Current Events

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.

How Generational Differences Should Define Advisors’ Interactions with Clients

A Review of The Gen-Savvy Financial Advisor by Cam Marston

Generational differences were prominent as I spent time with my grandparents, parents, and cousins over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  But why and how should Financial Advisors take note of these differences as they market and structure their services to meet the needs of different age groups?

Asset Management Industry Trends

The Haves and Have-Nots of the RIA Industry

Despite the old maxim of a rising tide lifting all boats, the current markets are clearly more buoyant for wealth management firms than asset management firms.  Many asset managers are trading at or near all-time lows from a valuation perspective, while financial advisory shops continue to accumulate client assets.  For this week’s post, we’ll take a closer look at this trend, and what it means for the broader industry.

Investment Management

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