The research is in and it turns out that it pays to listen to your clients. The results of the 2005 Rydex Advisor Benchmarking Survey reveal a strong correlation between the amount of time spent with clients and the profits the firm generates. Advisors who spend 60% of their time working directly with their clients are eight times more profitable than advisors who spend less than 30% of their time doing so (see Chart 1, below).
Yet, compared to 2003, the amount of time advisors spent working with clients and managing their portfolios decreased dramatically in 2004. RIAs in our sample reported spending only 19% of their time on client service, down from 36% in 2003 (Chart 2).
Clearly, advisors have been getting busier with tasks that are taking precedence over client contact. Our data shows that time spent on administrative functions nearly doubled from 11% in 2003 to 20% in 2004, while time spent on business strategy grew from 12% to 18%, putting both of these tasks on par with client service. Almost half, or 46%, of advisors felt that the “need to work on and in the business simultaneously” is the biggest threat to their business, second only to government overregulation, which was named by a whopping 65% of respondents (Chart 3).
Some advisors may be attempting to cope with the slippage in client contact. In 2004, the average RIA firm added one client-services staff member to its team. In the past year, client-servicing staff has increased to 43% of the average RIA firm’s headcount, from only 25% in 2003.
While running an advisory practice has gotten more complex, it has also grown more profitable. In 2004, advisors reached both their highest levels of assets under management (AUM) and profitability. Revenue grew by 18%, attaining the highest levels for at least the past six years, while principal compensation increased to 38% of total expenses, compared with 35% in 2003. After the sharp drop from 1999 through 2002, advisors saw AUM rebound in 2003 to $87 million on median at year end, then grow to a six-year high of $105 million on median at year-end 2004. The average account size grew 10% to $345,000.
Also in 2004, profits rose 24% to a median of $294,000, the highest in four years. While some advisors may think that increases in revenues are more important than improvements in margin, we disagree. Profit margin is a key indicator that revenue flows are reaching the bottom line, which in turn reflects the financial health of an advisor’s business. In 2003, profit margins fell though revenues rose. In 2004, revenues and profit margins improved–median profit margin rose 5% to 27.17% during 2004. In other words, for every dollar of revenue, advisors generated 27 cents of profit. Some of that increase may be attributable to M&A activity, as owners tend to rationalize their practices to prepare them for sale.