2015 has been a difficult year for many wealth managers, with stock markets flat, global uncertainty increasing, and speculation about rising interest rates dominating the news. August volatility spurred one of the toughest quarters in five years, and the proposed Fiduciary Rule has raised an increasing number of questions about the types of products advisors can use with clients.
Given this environment, and with the benefit of hindsight, what were the biggest mistakes that wealth managers made this year?
Riding the bull market rather than educating and preparing clients for tougher markets
While 2015 has been tough, 2016 looks to be even more challenging. We are not necessarily at the end of the bull market, but certainly entering a different phase of it.
Wealth managers who did not educate and prepare their clients are probably now having to endure many questions from clients. In these cases, the advisor will have to learn the important lesson that if the client has to ask about it, it’s probably too late.
On the positive side, wealth managers do have another opportunity to be proactive as we prepare for a rising interest rate environment. It is not too late to position themselves (and their clients) for a smoother 2016. There is no time like the present.
Buying into the theory that active management is dead
As the market environment gets tougher, stock picking and sector selection become more important. Wealth managers who have continued to offer a combination of active and passive strategies to their clients are best positioned to succeed. Some active strategies are showing signs of promise. For example, in excess of 55% of active large- and small-cap growth equity funds outperformed their benchmarks in the six months trailing June 30, compared to 53% of mid-cap growth funds that did so, according to S&P Dow Jones Indices.
Fighting (or ignoring) the growth of robo-advisors
The growth of robo-advisors was probably the biggest story of 2015. Consulting firm A.T. Kearney predicts assets controlled by robo-advisors will increase by 68% annually to roughly $2.2 trillion by 2020, as Bloomberg has reported. About half of the allocation will be new money, with the remainder stemming from already invested assets.
Rather than view robo-advisors as threats, however, wealth managers should instead determine how the concept can fit into their businesses.
Wealth managers can partner with robo-advisors – either by developing their own software or working with a third-party vendor. With this technology, advisors can handle a larger number of smaller accounts (as opposed to rejecting them) and help attract Millennials who are beginning to save and invest.
Advisors who ignore these trends and fail to take action will face amplified business and investment risks in 2016. But wealth managers that give these topics some new attention should be better positioned to provide greater value to clients, while reinforcing their relevance.