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Looking Forward to 2022: 8 Emerging Trends That Have the Power to Transform Wealth Management

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Each year seems to pass by more quickly than the last. For a good number of advisors, saying goodbye to 2021 is bittersweet, because despite the continued shadow of the pandemic, many set new revenue records, while simultaneously finding creative ways to serve clients and manage their business lives.

In part 1 of our 2-part series, A Look Back at 2021: 7 Trends That Indicate it’s a Seller’s Market, we explored the trends that defined the year. This article looks at the foundation that was set over the last 12-months and how we expect certain events and activities to shape the new year for advisors and their businesses. 

And for 2022, an overarching theme has already emerged: The concept of “more.” One thing has become certain: Everyone wants more.

  • Clients want more from their advisors.
  • Advisors want more from their firms.
  • Firms want more from their advisors.

It’s the constant push towards something “better” that’s driving change and paving the way for the fastest evolution the wealth management industry has ever seen.

While clients may seem to be at the top of the food chain when it comes to the push, it’s really advisors who are leading the charge—because they’re being pushed from both sides.

And smart entrepreneurs are in the labs updating their offerings and creating new models at a frenetic pace to keep up with the constantly growing need.

That’s great news for advisors, their clients and the industry at-large because it’s a growth cycle that shows no sign of stopping, fueling opportunity for all constituents. And it’s the very fuel that will keep the seller’s market burning well into 2022.

At the same time, there are eight impactful trends and outcomes that we expect will develop as a result:

1. Advisor movement will remain at or near record levels.

Advisor movement in 2021 was at record levels, and we expect 2022 to continue that trend—driven by the push of continuing limitations at the wirehouses, but more so by the pulls toward new models that solve for so much of what advisors and their clients want. That is, “more,” which is well within reach as new models are born at a rapid pace and can satisfy just about every advisor’s version of Utopia.

At the same time, we cannot ignore the continued impact of the pandemic, with advisors working from home, providing the privacy and time to reflect upon their business lives.

2. Firms will continue to push retire-in-place deals, heading toward “commit-for-life” retention programs.

Firms want to keep advisors from cradle-to-grave—and will find ways to motivate them to do so.

Historically, big firms would use retire-in-place programs as a way to incent close-to-retirement lifers to sign on for the balance of their careers. Certainly, a great way for these advisors to monetize all they have worked for if they fully expect to retire from their firm at the end of the day. But firms have recognized that they can lock-in advisors for far longer by offering these programs to those earlier in their careers, asking them to commit for what could be the next 10 or 20 years.

But as more advisors get locked into these programs, the big firms will have greater latitude to push additional changes. While we expect that many advisors will sign-on, the longer-term result may be buyer’s remorse.

3. Record revenues won’t impact recruiting deals.

We are seeing blockbuster earnings reports from the big banks and brokerage firms, and advisors are hoping that recruiting deals will increase as a result. But we don’t expect them to necessarily share their riches.

What we might see instead are increases to backend bogies attached to recruitment deals, making the headline numbers sexier, but overall harder to hit.

4. Merrill will pull out of Protocol—finally.

While our supposition is purely anecdotal, we think 2022 is the year Merrill will finally pull out of the Protocol for Broker Recruiting. The reality is, we’re surprised they’re still in it.

Based upon the fact that the firm is not recruiting competitive talent and acknowledges record levels of attrition, we’ve been expecting Merrill’s exit.

So the message is this: If you are a Merrill advisor and believe there is a move in your future, it doesn’t serve you to wait. It is easier to move with Protocol protection than without, yet advisors at UBS and Morgan Stanley have proven that leaving a non-Protocol firm can be done, provided you have the right counsel and guidance.

5. New disruptive brands will enter the wealth management space.

Armed with a story that fills a gap, and resonates with advisors and clients alike, new players will enter the picture, and make waves in the landscape. Rockefeller Capital Management continues to provide proof of concept for this, demonstrating that a strong value proposition and a sexy brand can drive interest and disrupt the status quo.

But we’re thinking the next big splash will be from highly regarded firms that play adjacent to wealth management like Blackstone, BlackRock or Lazard. And the buzz around Amazon or Google may get louder as they make more of a push into the retail wealth management space.

6. Goldman’s custody service will be a game-changer.

A prediction we made a year ago has come to fruition: Goldman Sachs set the stage with their acquisition of Folio Financial (a smaller, more boutique custodian).

While adding more competition to the custody field amongst stalwarts like Schwab, Fidelity and Pershing, what makes this a real gamechanger is getting the attention of wirehouse advisors who would look at the Goldman brand as a step up and a way to attract ultra-high-net-worth clients. This may provide the impetus for many would-be entrepreneurs to go independent.

7. We’ll see more IPOs of independent wealth firms.

Back in 2018, Focus Financial broke new ground as the first significant IPO in the RIA space. CI Financial, the massive Canadian asset manager that’s been on a buying spree across U.S. wealth management, filed to go public earlier in ‘21. Tiedemann, a $20 billion plus multi-family office, went public through a SPAC deal several months ago.

With demand for IPOs on the increase, we expect more later-stage, mature multi-billion dollar RIA firms to join the fray. Some names to watch for include Hightower Advisors, Mercer Advisors or even Dynasty Financial Partners.

8. Interest in recommending crypto for clients will drive greater attraction to the RIA space.

It’s not surprising that cryptocurrency has been the rage amongst many advisors and their clients. Yet for those in the brokerage world, it will remain a topic of conversation, and not an investment they can offer their clients.

Currently, Fidelity is at the leading edge of the crypto boom in wealth management, but we expect other custodians, fintech providers and even companies like Coinbase to make their way in—and rather quickly.

So as crypto becomes more popular and the technology continues to develop, we expect that the desire to recommend it will increase as well—and make it one of the drivers for advisors considering independence.

While the chase to achieve more will drive growth for advisors and firms alike, the real winners will be the clients who will benefit from an industry ready to answer their every beck and call.

And that’s what will make 2022 extraordinary.