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Financial Planning > Behavioral Finance

RIAs, M&A and Why Brand Value Matters

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Cashing out is a big theme in 2019. With interest rates holding at historic lows and valuations climbing constantly upward, mergers and acquisitions are on a tear.

This shouldn’t take us by surprise: Deloitte’s survey early in the year found that 76% of U.S. M&A executives and 87% of M&A leaders at private equity firms expected the number of deals to increase in 2019. I’d call that a pretty solid consensus.

Financial advisory firms are caught in the rip tide, ready to break M&A records by year’s end. And what a time for it. Aging founders without a succession plan got the timing to sell just right, and midsize wealth management firms looking to grow by acquisition are bolting together formidable books to break the $1 billion assets under management mark. In fact, RIAs with assets between $300 million and $1 billion drove much of the activity.

There are few signs that the pace will slow, and the rampant activity presents opportunities in all cases. Buyers have available cash and a wide field of sellers looking for an out. Sellers have a line of interested acquirers that stretches around the block. And those looking to grow organically can showcase their steady hand and long-term vision while enjoying the client confidence that comes with a bull market.

Whether planning to acquire, sell or grow organically, wealth managers should know that their value is not only a numbers game. Keep these financial services marketing questions top of mind to add intangibles that support your financial picture:

What’s Your Appeal to the Next Generation?

It’s a conversation that impacts every financial advisor’s business strategy — the next generation of investors is a totally different demographic. Yes, there are similarities: Clients will always want to preserve and grow their wealth. They will be concerned about their families. They will have an eye on retirement and what they leave behind.

But change is afoot. Advisors need to demonstrate they understand that women are commonly the financial decision makers in the household. Savvy investors expect movement toward integrating environmental, social and governance factors into the research process. The new generation of clients also wants technology that — in combination with the personal relationship — smooths communication, enables access and emphasizes ease of use.

Advisors who understand some or all of these nuances should not be shy about touting them. Wear these attributes on your sleeve. They are assets for the incoming wave of clients and for the future of your business.

 Does Your Brand Have Value Among Clients?

Providing great service to clients is imperative. But if you’re looking to grow, sell or acquire, your brand needs to have standing beyond immediate referrals. You need to show momentum and style, with a message that is easy to understand and attracts the kind of clients and partners that fit your strategy.

Examine the way you present yourself. Is it clear? Is it consistent? When you’re not in the room, can clients articulate what your firm stands for?

If not, your brand is stuck to your shoes, instead of traveling on its own. Certainly, client trust comes first, but if clients are to speak well of you, they need help knowing what to say. Brand strength allows the word to spread.

 Do Peers Respect Your Name in the Marketplace?

We hear too often from financial advisors who feel there’s no value in peer recognition: It only matters what the client thinks. That’s a wonderful sentiment, but it won’t help when it comes time to attract an acquisition or recruit new talent.

In the same way your brand should translate smoothly for clients, it needs to carry weight with your peers. They should understand what makes your firm unique and whether their approach may be a fit with the momentum you’ve created.

Embrace visibility at advisor events, in trade publications, and at networking functions. Over time, the reputation you build will provide a cultural touchpoint and allow for growth opportunities.

This all comes down to a simple truth: the brand is part of the business, whether or not you invest in it. By shaping it and managing it, you control a vital aspect of your buying and selling power.

Evan Zall is President of Longview Strategies.


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