Fortunes Shifting in Wealth Management

Industry consolidation, shifting customer needs have altered the landscape.

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Wealth management and the subfield of financial planning are in a period of immense change with shifting and consolidation are roiling the landscape in Oregon and beyond. Aging baby boomers are selling their business, cashing out their 401Ks and planning their estates. New tech like AI is altering the way business is conducted. Overall, clients are demanding more and their preferences are changing.

A number of major players have dropped off Oregon BusinessFinancial Planners Powerlist as others have been gobbled up. One example is Umpqua Bank being purchased by Columbia Banking System in 2022.

“We’ve definitely seen a lot of private equity entering the wealth management space and financial planning,” says Abbey Rollins, lead advisor at Aldrich Advisors. “Usually, private equity only wants to own something for four, five years and then sell it again, spin it out to a public company, something like that.”

A healthy office culture often falls victim to an acquisition, especially when a much larger national firm buys up a small firm that rose above its station, says Ralph Cole, director of Ferguson Wellman Capital Advisers.

“Consolidation can be really harmful because it’s hard to integrate different cultures,” he says. “We’re about execution and culture and ethics and having a long-term outlook. But on Wall Street they tend to think short-term and do things for the quick buck.”

Some local casualties have been firms without succession plans in place or firms with founders or leading advisers looking to retire, Rollins says.

As the population ages the estate planning side is becoming a bigger side of the business, according to Jeff Auxier, chief investment officer at Auxier Asset Management.

“As a person ages, their retirement assets grow and it becomes much more serious because you have to focus on protecting those assets and that takes more due diligence,” Auxier says. “You really have to make sure they’re getting paid for the risk they’re taking and that requires a lot more research on investments … They’re not working and they can’t recoup those losses.”

Technology is changing the game in wealth management. Artificial intelligence  has proven effective with some tasks. Around five to seven years ago, many observers thought clients would migrate to robo-advisers, which provide customers access to financial investment services for a smaller fee than traditional services. But a full-on adoption never materialized. Clients have never had as much access to investment opportunities but despite improvements to technology, there’s no replacing the personal touch.

“I really think that focusing on developing a plan — really a wealth strategy that’s going to get the client through retirement and also pass their wealth on to charity, the next generation — and having somebody who understands how all those pieces work together, I think that’s really where we’re headed.”

The use of remote meetings exploded during the pandemic. At first, they were considered a necessary evil in an industry where interpersonal trust is key. But once managers realized how much could be saved in time and money, they became ingrained.

“The whole phenomenon of the Zoom call has changed things,” Cole says.“(Clients) like them, and so do we; they’re so much more efficient, even though just there’s no substitute for face-to-face.”

Rollins said the pandemic has demonstrated the value of in-person meetings.

“I think clients have really seen the value of talking face-to-face and being in-person for these meetings,” she says.

Many clients are overly influenced by the latest trends or the scandal of the day on the evening news. That said, there are ongoing political issues with potential personal financial impacts like the Trump tax cuts, which are scheduled to expire in 2025 without a change by Congress.

All in all, advisers agree the future is bright. Margins are good and growth is fairly steady. Amid uncertainty and shifting seas, clients still need pathways to shape their financial future.

“It’s important to keep up the fundamentals,” Auxier says. “Like [Warren] Buffett says, you can count on greed, fear and folly — those are the constants. The key is to stay rational and do the homework. If you start drinking the Kool-Aid, you can really lose a lot of money.”

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