June 21, 2010

Mark Hurley on the Value, or Lack Thereof, of Your Practice

Iconoclast's latest research is a warning to many advisors and wealth managers

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  • Where Are We Headed? The ultimate compliance goal is to help ensure that everyone associated with an advisory firm acts ethically at all times.  Advisors and RIAs should do the right thing, even when regulators are not looking over their shoulders.
  • Disaster Recovery Plans and Succession Planning RIAs owe a fiduciary duty to clients to prepare for disasters and other contingencies. If an RIA does not have a disaster recovery plan, clients’ financial well-being may be jeopardized.  RIAs should also engage in succession planning, ensuring a smooth transaction if an owner or principal leaves.   

Mark Hurley created a firestorm of criticism and soul-searching with a paper he co-wrote while at Undiscovered Managers in 1999. Our lead columnist at the time, Bob Veres, wrote that the report--"The Future of the Financial Advisory Business and the Delivery of Advice"--envisions a future "where 50 to 100 large planning shops dominate the marketplace, scattering the smaller one-planner competition into increasingly barren niches."

While things have not quite worked out that way, Hurley, a West Point and Goldman, Sachs alumnus, has written a new paper with his partners at Fiduciary Network, which provides financing to wealth managers looking to sell ownership of their firm. The paper, released on June 14 and called Creating, Measuring and Unlocking Enterprise Value in a Wealth Manager, is a roadmap for those advisors who wish to do just that, though many such wealth managers will not like what they read.

For instance, the paper defines enterprise value as "the economic value that an investor captures from owning the equity of a company. Because wealth management firms have virtually no tangible assets, their only enterprise value is their future (in particular, after their current owners have departed) profits either as standalone businesses or as part of another entity."

In an interview, Hurley said that his new paper argues that of the 19,000 wealth management firms, "18,000 of them have no enterprise value" that would be of interest to a buyer. Moreover, despite the fact that "99% of advisors are looking for a 'slow deer' that will pay them" what they think their practices are worth, they will be disappointed.

Admitting up front that he and his firm are not unbiased in the matter, since they provide financing for advisory firm acquisitions and have made many such investments themselves--"Fiduciary Network is an investor in wealth managers and to date has completed nine transactions"--Hurley suggests that advisors must educate themselves about selling their own firms, since trying to do so on your own is "is like conducting appendix surgery on yourself." Moreover, the paper says that "owners who wait until they try to sell their businesses to become knowledgeable about mergers and acquisitions transactions are potentially easy prey."

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