How RIAs can broaden their services without derailing their businesses.
Over the past two decades, financial planning offerings have spread throughout the wealth management industry. What was once seen as a niche offering has become increasingly commonplace among RIAs.
It’s become easier for firms to deliver in-depth financial planning and holistic wealth management. However, over time, client expectations have changed.
What’s driving this trend? Technology.
As technology has proliferated, clients have started to demand more. If they can get simple financial planning advice from nearly any advisor, or even from an app, why would they choose to work with your RIA? What else are you offering to separate yourself from the crowd?
Building Differentiators is Getting Harder
A recent study from Cerulli Associates found that there has been a 5.3% compound annual increase in the number of financial planning practices across all financial advisory channels. With more and more advisory practices offering financial planning, the service is becoming less and less of a differentiator. 1
This same Cerulli Associates study found that as more firms are offering financial planning, advisors are looking at other ways to expand their services to stand out to clients. The study found that over the next two years, the top areas of service that advisors are looking to expand are trust services, digital advice platforms, and concierge/lifestyle services.1
The question these firms need to answer: what new services will they offer, and how are they going to deliver those services?
Will they be through a third-party vendor? Or hiring in-house? Maybe building a new proprietary technology? It all comes down to what makes sense for that unique RIA.
Understanding Client and Prospect Needs
Before adding a new offering, advisors will need to determine if there is in fact a demand for that offering.
What services have current clients asked about that your firm doesn’t already deliver? What questions are coming up in prospect meetings with potential clients? What holes does the internal RIA team feel need to be filled?
Adding a new offering can be a great way to differentiate and demonstrate additional value, but only if that offering is something your target clients would care about and want.
Advisors should consider diving into these points in client meetings or via a client survey. Understanding where clients see the most value from an advisor’s service, and where they feel value could be improved, can help drive these major business decisions.
Determining What You Do Best
While knowing what clients want is critical, it isn’t the end-all be-all. Just because some clients would like to have access to solutions like trust services, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best offering for your RIA to deliver to those clients. Once RIAs have identified the types of new offerings they feel could benefit clients, they’ll need to figure out how they’ll bring those offerings to life, and if they are areas where the firm can deliver value.
Before making any major decisions here, the RIA team should take a step back and zero in on how to best use their time and resources. These expanded service offerings should never come at the expense of a RIA’s core offering.
While some firms may have a team member that is focused on managing the technology stack, that isn’t the case for every RIA. Often, the work of managing technology is shared across the firm, with each team member contributing to the success of that tech stack.
Even if a RIA feels that a new offering could help to bring in new business, that doesn’t mean they should dive into the deep end. If the prospective offering is not something that the team can deliver at a level that will add value to client relationships - without a disproportionate time investment that pulls team members away from what they do best - then it may make sense to hold off.
The priority for many RIAs is to deliver exceptional service to clients – that should remain the priority even when exploring new options for the business.
Buy or Build?
When looking to launch a new offering, RIAs are faced with two main options: Buy or Build
The financial advisory industry is full of technology vendors to help solve for nearly every part of a business.
There are RIA custodians that offer an incredibly broad slate of solutions. Some RIAs may be able to find the capabilities they’d like to offer simply by executing a custodial transition.
There are also more niche vendors that specialize in one type of offering, such as in-depth performance reporting and analytics companies. For some RIAs, the easiest route to expanded offerings could be adding a new technology provider or integration to their tech stack.
Going this route is relatively simple, advisors just need to invest the time to find the right provider to fit their unique needs. The good news when buying is the advisor will be working with a provider that has helped RIAs launch the offering before and will hopefully be able to guide the RIA through the implementation.
If the RIA is looking to innovate and deliver an offering that is unique to their client-base, that may require a bit more work.
This could mean hiring a new employee or engaging with an outsourced provider that can offer the expertise and insight to launch a curated offering for the RIA. These options allow for more customization to deliver an offering that fits the unique needs of the firm but may require a higher investment. These solutions will also likely require upkeep and maintenance, which can add up financially over time.
Making the Move
There’s a lot for RIAs to accomplish before launching a new offering:
- Discussing the types of offerings the RIA could look to offer, and if those offerings would be a value-add to clients.
- Determining if the RIA team has the experience and bandwidth to effectively support those new offerings.
- Deciding on the specific offering that can be a true value-add and differentiator for clients and prospects.
- Determining if the firm should build or buy to launch that new offering.
If you’d be interested in discussing your RIA’s goals and how your unique firm could expand the services you deliver to clients, we should talk. We could see if TradePMR’s RIA custodial services platform could help you unlock new differentiators for your firm.
1 RIAs Defend Their Turf Through Service Expansion: Cerulli, ThinkAdvisor, by Michael S. Fischer. Published March 1, 2022.