For years the big fear across the wealth management industry was that robo advisors would steal clients for human advisors and eventually leave the latter jobless. However, several years of evidence shows that is not actually what is happening. First of all, it is not Millennials which are the biggest consumers of robo services, rather it is baby boomers. For instance, Vanguard reports that 85% of those enrolled in its robo are over the age of 50. Even at Merrill’s Edge platform, the percentage is 45%. Additionally, the ~$200 bn that has been brought under management by robos does not seem to have migrated out of human-advised accounts, but rather is new money coming into the industry, representing pure growth.
FINSUM: While the threat of robos has been lessening over the last couple of years, this is downright positive news. Rather than eating away at human advisors, robos seem likely to actually bring more capital to the table.
Advisors need to be aware and involved, say some of the top names in the industry, because the fiduciary rule is headed in directions that nobody wanted. While the DOL rule was far from perfect, what is in the works is worse—a patchwork of dozens of individual state rules set to fragment the US wealth management market. The SEC is working on a harmonized rule, but according to the CEO of Cetera, “If you are not actively engaged in that discussion with the regulators, then you are not fulfilling your obligations to this profession. You should be getting everyone you know, every advisor you know, to be a good citizen”.
FINSUM: We don’t now how much any individual advisor can do to affect the outcome of the fiduciary rule saga, but suffice it to say that things are quite dicey right now and every little bit helps.
ETFs have been the dominant investing trend for the last half decade or so, eating away at mutual funds’ grip. However, what will be the next major investing trend? The answer may have just debuted. Orion Advisor Services has just announced a new product called ASTRO (Advisor Strategy & Tax Return Optimization tool). ASTRO “allows advisors to build tax-efficient SMA portfolios that can take into account clients’ environmental, societal and governmental concerns”, according to Michael Kitces, who says that the new technology is a threat to asset management and could prove highly disruptive, as it would allow better loss harvesting and more tax-sensitive liquidations in retirement. The system would allow advisors to “buy, own and manage a portfolio of all the underlying individual investments directly”.
FINSUM: This sounds like it could be a very potent offering, but we do not expect ETFs do go away any time soon.
If you need some more information to understand why the big wirehouses are trying to pull out of the broker protocol, this is it. In 2017, independent broker-dealers snagged 118 wirehouse teams and took almost $28 bn in AUM, up 23% from 2016. The success comes as independents have closed the technology and product gaps with larger rivals, and IPO allotments have become scarce at wirehouses.
FINSUM: Wirehouses are generally growing fearful and are trying to throw up hurdles that keep brokers from breaking away. Hence the pullout from the broker protocol.
So across the wealth management industry there has been a gnawing and anxious debate that may be keeping advisors up at night—does the fiduciary rule mean that advisors need to always offer the lowest cost funds to clients? Well, one lawyer’s opinion is a resounding “no”. Citing the rule itself, the DOL says “Adviser and Financial Institution do not have to recommend the transaction that is the lowest cost or that generates the lowest fees without regard to other relevant factors”. That other relevant factor could be a myriad of things, such as the other holdings in a portfolio or whether one fund has higher performance than another or a different fee structure and so on.
FINSUM: We have personally seen a lot of debate on this issue, and while many do realize that they do not have to offer the lowest cost investments, fear of regulatory trouble pushes them to do so.
If you were an advisor at Wells Fargo who wanted to move to its independent arm you would face a big barrier—a so-called “tax” on compensation for two years. The tax was faced by brokers who wanted to move to the Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, or FiNet. The system is unique among brokers in that it lets brokers go without Wells Fargo totally losing them. However, the two-year tax on compensation was a big barrier. Now, the bank is considering getting rid of the tax so long as advisors sign a two- to three-year contract to stay at FiNet.
FINSUM: This seems a smart move to us as the tide of advisors going independent is only going to grow stronger.