Pershing’s Ben Harrison.

Ben Harrison, who will succeed Mark Tibergien as the head of Pershing’s RIA custody business come June 1, says growing the business “will be a big focus” of the firm’s future.

The goal is to become “the largest and most significant player” in the RIA custodial space, says Harrison, noting that this is what he and his team aspire to long term.

The firm wants to capture a bigger share of the RIA custodial market and expand from a focus on professionally managed boutique advisory firms to a “broader set” of firms, including “more emerging firms.”

Asked for his definition of “emerging firms,” Harrison said it’s not related to asset size but to a firm’s characteristics — firms that have the capacity and the desire to grow and evolve from a business to an enterprise and that are committed to growing with Pershing.

Pershing, a subsidiary of Bank of New York, currently serves about 725 firms with total assets over $800 billion at the end of 2019 (before the recent market correction) and is the third-largest custodian for RIAs in terms of assets after Schwab — which is acquiring TD Ameritrade — and Fidelity, and fourth largest in terms of advisory firm clients.

“The economics in the custodial marketplace is starting to evolve” and “the business is probably ripe for a new pricing model,” Harrison said.

The focus on custodying products like ETFs and equities that advisory clients own could evolve to a focus on total costs of ownership, not just products, says Harrison.

Also, in a world where RIAs need to deliver more value to justify their fees — they have been a fairly constant 80 basis points over the last 10 years — firms have the opportunity to think not only about how they price their services but how they purchase services from custodians, says Harrison. “Now the cost is borne from investors’ portfolios. I don’t know if that has longevity.”

It’s not clear that assets-under-management fees need to change or just be separated from custodial fees or whether advisory firms will absorb some of the custodial fees if they instead charge flat fees to investors, says Harrison.

No matter how fees evolve, he says, Pershing will continue its position in the custodial marketplace as a B-to-B firm serving advisors, which differentiates it from retail-facing firms like Schwab. “We’re in a category of our own … the brand behind the brand.”

— Check out What Tibergien Expects for RIAs’ Future, and His Own on ThinkAdvisor.