If you think it’s taking longer to recruit clients, you’re not alone. Charles Schwab’s annual RIA benchmarking study reports that sales cycles are getting longer—a problem that can take a toll on practices’ bottom line.
Business development productivity is down, as the time cost per new $1 million in assets under management increased by 20 percent last year. Without the drag, the financial results reported by advisors to Schwab likely would have been larger: Profits grew 14 percent at the median-sized firm (Schwab said the median had $212 million in AUM, $1.3 million in annual revenue), chiefly driven by stronger revenue. Median income among the 1,000 firms in the survey was up 5 percent, to $341,000.
Jon Beatty, Schwab Advisor Services’ senior vice president, sales and relationship management, said investors are taking more time and interviewing more advisors before committing to a relationship.
“Instead of closing a client in the first meeting, maybe advisors have to meet with them two or three times. Maybe you’re meeting with the second generation because that’s important to the patriarch of the family,” Beatty says. “And when you have to meet more times, the cost of acquisition goes up.
“It’s an outcome of a challenging market. It’s a flat market for the last five or 10 years. There’s headline risk with what’s going on in Europe, with budget deficits,” he says.
Advisors also told Schwab that they are seeing more RFPs from ultra-high-net-worth families at the lower end of the wealth scale. In the past it was common for households with $50 million to request wealth management proposals from advisors before signing up; now it’s not unusual for families worth $10 million to $25 million to ask for RFPs, Beatty says.
Ron Hunt of Hunt Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, Calif. said there’s more suspicion among investors about moving assets to new advisors.
“They’re afraid it’s not going to be any better on the other side,” says Hunt, 61, who manages $50 million in assets and is affiliated with RIA aggregator Concert Wealth Management. “I think people are just more worried and afraid about their investments, period. You definitely have to be more patient.”
Hunt spends less time trying to recruit new investors and more time on managing relationships with existing clients, he says.
Corey Casilio, another Concert-affiliated RIA with $55 million in AUM, says the financial industry’s missteps are the reason why it takes longer to close deals with prospects.
“This week HSBC, PFGBest last week, JPMorgan … The industry has done it to itself,” says Casilio, 32, of Casilio-Leitch Investments. “People are asking a lot more questions—what goes on with a custodial relationship, how the trading is done, who does the reporting.”
Schwab suggested the sales cycle issue was also being reflected in RIA satisfaction with growth—it was down slightly, from 69 percent in 2010 to 67 percent last year. But major benchmarks still grew, the Schwab study says. The median RIA firm increased revenues by 12 percent and AUM by 3.8 percent, a record high for the second consecutive year.
Beatty says that advisors are using technology, outsourcing and client segmentation to drive greater efficiencies in their practices.
“The way we hear advisors talk about it, if they can get more leverage in their operations, they can then spend more time in front of prospects and existing clients,” he says. “Advisors tell us that their ability to win clients in face-to-face meetings is one of the key enablers to their success.”