From the February 2012 issue of Investment Advisor • Subscribe!

Two Minutes to Midnight

If you take a long-term view, this will be just another blip on the radar screen

Out with the old, in with the new. The Museum of American Finance was a particularly appropriate setting for the roundtable discussion on succession planning detailed in this month’s cover story. One couldn’t help but wonder if the advisory business would one day end up as dusty pictures down darkened hallways visited by bored schoolchildren once every few years (metaphorically speaking, of course. The Museum of American Finance is a fine institution; airy and inviting).

The “Doomsday Clock” urgency that meets the ever-advancing average age of the advisor illustrates the problem. A much-trumpeted report in 2010 from Cerulli Associates found the average age to be 49. But it was the following statistics from the Boston-based research firm that got everyone’s attention—less than 25% of all advisors are under the age of 40, and only 5.6% of advisors are under 30.

“As the Baby Boom advisors retire, the financial advisory industry runs the risk of not being able to meet investor demand,” Cerulli analysts wrote in one of the more obvious interpretations of the data. When aggregated from the 1970s to 2008, Cerulli’s data found that wirehouses and insurance firms are still the most common sources of new advisors, with 29% of new advisors coming from the wirehouses and 26% from insurers. It doesn’t account for the wirehouse exodus post-2008, but it’s revealing nonetheless.

I recently asked TD Ameritrade Institutional head Tom Bradley, a roundtable participant, why, given new regulation, commission-based cold calling, market uncertainty, the fiduciary question and the lack of mentoring support, any young person would see a future in the advice-driven model.

“The first thing I would say to a young person is that investors always come back to the market,” Bradley answered. “The allure of the gains that can be had are simply too great. I saw it after the crash of 1987 and multiple other mini-crashes since then. When you’re in those down periods, it always seems to be so difficult and so dark. But the bottom line is that if you take a long-term view, this will be just another blip on the radar screen.”

A radar blip or a dark and dusty museum; it’s up to us to choose the eventual metaphor. But with roundtable discussions like the one featured this month, the conversation has begun.

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