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Impressive RIA Growth Comes With Dire Warning for Advisors

By Alex Padalka October 4, 2018

RIA revenue numbers have improved, attaining the same growth levels as in 2014 — but there may be little cause to celebrate, according to a recent study from BNY Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions.

The median revenue growth was 12% in 2017, up from 7% from the 2015 study, the last time a similar study was conducted, according to a survey of 385 advice firms conducted by the publication InvestmentNews and sponsored by Pershing.

But the main driver of AUM growth has been market performance, which “should be a flag for our profession," Gabriel Garcia, managing director and head of relationship management at Pershing Advisor Solutions, says in a press release accompanying the report. RIAs had a median growth in assets under management of 19% — but 8% was due to market performance, Pershing says.

Meanwhile, while RIAs have been aggressively hiring, the new recruits have not translated into productivity gains, the study found. Forty-nine percent of the firms responding to the survey report having hired support advisors, Pershing says in the press release. Likewise, 20% of firms polled hired service advisors, according to the study. But average revenue per employee is little changed at $440,000, compared to $442,000 in 2015, Pershing says.

“First and foremost, firms have to find ways to maximize their investments in new hires. Training is critical in that respect. Further, firms need to increase their focus on developing marketing and client experience strategies to help differentiate themselves in a demanding economy and increasingly competitive marketplace," Garcia says in the statement.

Meanwhile, size continues contributing greatly to a firm’s ability to grow. Firms with $10 million or more in revenue had a median revenue growth rate of 13%, while solo practitioners reported median growth of just 6%, according to the report.