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Burt White

Industry Spotlight > Advisors

Burt White: Advisors’ Coasting Days Are Over

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The longest bull market in history, 2009-2020, was exhilarating, if not wealth-enhancing and a giant boost to advisor assets under management. But clearly times have changed — big-time. 

Hence, advisors must seek organic growth, like growing wallet share and acquiring new clients. 

If they don’t, “they’ll start to see stagnation,” argues Burt White, managing partner and chief strategic officer of Carson Group, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor.

Further, because more and more folks are entering the spending phase of retirement, advisors “won’t see current clients as deliverers of additional assets but as detractors — they’ll be taking assets out,” he says.

White, 53, joined Carson this past April after 14 years as managing director and chief investment officer at LPL Financial.

Part of his mission at Carson, whose 120 partner advisors manage $20 billion in assets, is to “redefine how the industry shows and talks about wealth,” the firm has stated.

“Making sure that we build the ecosystem to support that is [Carson’s] biggest priority,” says White, who earlier was director of research at Wachovia Securities and a Mercer Investments analyst.

Speaking by phone just before kickoff of Carson’s Excell 2022 conference in Las Vegas, White stresses that advisors must catch up with today’s and tomorrow’s investor needs.

“The new superpower is ‘unlearning,’” he says in the interview. “The advisors that are going to grow the fastest and be the most successful are the ones that will be able to ‘unlearn’ to adapt to consumers’ new expectations the fastest.” 

White discusses too how to solve the “capacity crisis” advisors face in their practices via partnering in areas like “outsourcing, automating and elimination.”

His rosy forecast for this fourth quarter 2022: “The market [will] be at higher levels … We’re going to avoid a recession … The Fed will orchestrate a soft landing.”

Here are highlights of our interview:

THINKADVISOR: Carson Group has been growing by leaps and bounds. Why is the firm putting so much emphasis on growth at this point?

BURT WHITE: [A recent Schwab study] said that the average RIA grew [AUM] at about 14%. But about 12% of that was the market. My guess is that the market isn’t going to give 12% [every year] over the next five years.  

If advisors aren’t growing wallet share, getting new clients and creating organic growth, they’ll start to see stagnation.

Any other reasons?

For the first time, there were just as many clients taking money out of their portfolios as they’re putting in, according to a Cerulli report, I believe. 

“Many people are getting into the decumulation phase [of retirement]. We’re at a tipping point and won’t see current clients as deliverers of additional assets but as detractors — they’ll be taking assets out.”

That’s going to hurt advisor growth. So the average advisor’s client base, who is older, likely won’t  help as much as before. 

That means we’ve got to help advisors find the time to add more clients and grow faster.

In what other ways can advisors improve their practices?

Consumers’ needs are evolving faster than the advisor is. So the new superpower is “unlearning” — not learning new stuff but “unlearning” stuff that we learned before.

The advisors that are going to grow the fastest and be the most successful are the ones that will be able to “unlearn” and adapt to consumers’ new expectations the fastest.

Doesn’t experience count?

Our experience is expiring. Experience doesn’t make us perform or deliver better; it just gives us a false confidence because it worked before.

You’ve got to know which part of your experience is key. What part has a shelf life of a Twinkie, and what part is like yogurt and expires? 

The stuff that’s yogurt, get rid of. The stuff that’s a Twinkie is part of your value proposition. 

What more can advisors do to make their practices up to date and therefore run better?

Find a way to reduce their capacity crisis. A study says that the average American does 31 hours of stuff a day, including 7 hours of multi-tasking. Advisors are probably doing 40 or 50 hours of stuff.

How should they be dealing with this crisis, then?

Partnership is the new expertise. You don’t have to learn everything or be an expert in all things. You partner — with the right partner.

You do this through things like outsourcing, automating and elimination.

But there are many [functions] that no one but the advisor can [perform], like having a human heart- to-heart conversation with clients.

Your mission as chief strategy officer is to “transform Carson’s investment platform for scale and advance its digital client experience to redefine how the industry shows and talks about wealth,” according to a Carson press release. Please explain.

We want to be the place where models-based practices come to thrive. These are advisors that are looking to thread the needle between personalized strategies and scalable models-based portfolio management tools. This is what we’re building.

What about redefining the way the industry talks about wealth?

How we [discuss wealth] hasn’t evolved much over the last few decades. We’re still showing growth on a dollar chart; performance vs. the S&P — the same old stuff.

One of the things we’re trying to do is introduce more thought leadership on how we understand markets and what we can learn from other industries and other companies. 

How we talk differently about wealth is the evolution of what advice is.

Where is the advice industry headed in the coming years?

Advice is widening. Fifteen years ago advice was mostly about investments. Today it’s around comprehensive planning. 

Where it’s going over the years ahead is really exciting.

Right now, advisors are beginning to be life coaches. Clients are asking about career advice, running a small business, lifestyle management, budgeting, spending, borrowing and lending. 

These services used to be reserved only for the ultra-wealthy and family office practices, but now they’re [moving] into the mass affluent [segment]. This makes advisors more valuable than before.

And it’s going to change how we talk about wealth. Making sure that we build the ecosystem to support that is [Carson Group’s] biggest priority. 

But many advisors pay short shrift to the so-called soft skills. Excellent comprehensive planning requires those. Your thoughts?

The new currency is human. This is a human business, and that’s how we [need] to begin to think about it. Human currency is the key. How you unlock it is what I was just talking about.

It all comes down to empathy and being authentic. Technology is creating a world that’s hard to tell what’s real or not real. 

What is real is a hug. What’s real is sitting down with someone and talking about their future and having them spill their hopes and dreams and fears, and being able to look them in the eye and let them know you’ve got a plan to help them. The future is a human business.

What’s your outlook for the market and the economy for the rest of this year?

We expect the market to be at higher levels between now and the end of the year. Though the economy is slowing, we’re going to avoid a recession.  

The market cares about whether things are getting better or worse, not if things are good or bad. What is super-clear to us is that things are getting better. 

But midterm election years always stink because business [during those times] always stinks. This year is particularly stinky because of inflation, the war in Ukraine [and so on].

The average low usually happens in early September.

The good news is that one year after the election, stocks have been higher every single midterm election year going all the way back to WW II.

Is all that what advisors should tell their clients when they say they’re worried?

I think so. They should say that we’ve been here before. This is not uncharted territory. After the midterm elections, the markets begin to rally.

What about the Fed’s actions to try to ameliorate America’s economic problems?

We believe that the Fed has done all the right things to give us every possible chance to have a soft landing. They’ve been aggressive both in their actions and their rhetoric. 

Inflation is likely to come down quicker than what a lot of people think.

The one thing to watch is the tight labor market. There’s a lot more demand for workers than there are people who want to work. This will keep wages high and people spending. Those are all good things, but they’re inflationary.

However, you say that you don’t see an economic recession on the way?

We’re in a confidence recession. Retail sales are moving higher and people are spending money, yet their confidence continues to be in the dumps. A lot of people are worried.

But don’t forget about the wealth effect [consumers spend more as assets increase]. Household net worth as a percentage of disposable income is the highest on record and almost double what it was 20 years ago. 

So even [with] this tough market, the wealth effect is still keeping spending high, increasing demand and creating jobs, even though you see this pullback and a lot of people struggling. 

What are your thoughts about interest rates?

We think the Fed is committed to breaking the back of inflation. It will raise the fed funds rate up to around 4% over the next six months, we think.

They’ll be aggressive, and that’s going to put upward pressure on short- and longer-term yields. So we recommend being underweight in duration.

What do you foresee as the impact of additional rate increases?

The Fed has some more work to do. The market is hoping that it’s going to take its foot off the pedal. 

I think that’s wrong. We believe the Fed is going to continue to raise rates. Will that begin to take a bite [out of] economic growth? Sure.

But we think this economy, given its relative strength, can overcome that and that the Fed will orchestrate a soft landing.