Man walking down stairway with sun behind him
Man walking down stairway with sun behind him

Insights on how advisors adapt and drive growth

Findings from the 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab reaffirm essential pathways to success. Discover some of the key insights using the interactive data below.
 

Insights on how advisors adapt and drive growth

The 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study reflects a period of change for the 1,340 participating firms that collectively have more than $1.5 trillion in assets under management (AUM). The study provides findings on the essential pathways to advisory firm success, including strategic planning, operational excellence, new client growth, communicating value, and talent development.

The Schwab Advisor Services™ Guiding Principles for Advisory Firm Success resonate throughout the results of the study. Explore this data-rich site to gain insights into how advisors of all sizes have continued to thrive and grow their firms amid changing conditions by adapting and embracing new ways to connect with clients and prospects.

Effective planning and execution is a leading indicator of success

Compass
GUIDING PRINCIPLE

Effective planning and execution is a leading indicator of success

Strategic planning, effective execution, and a growth mindset have helped RIA firms thrive—even in recent times of change. The benchmarking research identified that strategic planning helps firms sharpen focus and alignment around their long-range vision for future growth while also staying ready to pivot as needed. In the charts below, the 2021 RIA report shows continuing growth in total clients, revenue, and AUM.1

RIA 5-year growth measures

RIA 5-year growth measures

Clients

Revenue

AUM

Value is defined through your clients' eyes

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GUIDING PRINCIPLE

Value is defined through your clients' eyes

RIAs benefit from developing an offer based on the needs and desires of the clients they most aspire to serve. Firms that created a written ideal client persona (ICP), client value proposition (CVP), and marketing plan attracted more new clients and new client assets than firms without these documented. In 2020, these RIAs attracted 50% more new clients and 62% more new client assets than firms that didn't put these in writing.2 Among Top Performing Firms—the firms with the strongest performance across 15 key business metrics—68% have documented an ICP.3 The data below show how firms are embracing these practices, what services they are offering, and which services they include in their asset management fees.

Evolution of services in the RIA offer

Firms with a documented ideal client persona, client value proposition, and marketing plan 

Service offerings by firm size4

Service offerings by firm size4

Service offerings by firm size

Firms under $250M

Firms over $250M

Operational excellence creates greater capacity for clients

Gears
GUIDING PRINCIPLE

Operational excellence creates greater capacity for clients

Technology has helped advisors stay connected with clients and engage with prospects. Half of all firms track the status of prospects in the sales cycle, and firms tend to use their CRM to define and track the steps advisors should take—from first meeting to closing. Almost all Top Performing Firms, 92%, tracked their performance on new client goals in 2020, compared to 75% of other firms. As the charts below illustrate, firms that leverage tools to track qualified leads tend to attract more new clients.

Metrics that firms use to track new client goals and leads

Metrics that firms use to track new client goals and leads

Firms tracking progress on new client goals

New clients acquired in 2020 by firms that track qualified leads

Your reputation is your brand

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GUIDING PRINCIPLE

Your reputation is your brand

Results of the 2021 report reveal that Top Performing Firms are leveraging many channels to drive superior growth—including marketing as well as referrals. As advisors looked for new ways to connect with prospects last year, digital strategies and website effectiveness grew in importance. Top Performing Firms were more likely to leverage digital tactics. When considering what tactics to pursue, it's helpful to focus on those that resonate with your ideal client. The charts below illustrate how firms are driving new client growth.

Strategies to drive growth

Sources of new client asset growth in 2020

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Digital marketing tactics that firms used for prospecting5

Digital marketing tactics that firms used for prospecting<sup>5</sup>

Website optimization features implemented by firms

People are your most important asset

People ALT TEXT
GUIDING PRINCIPLE

People are your most important asset

As firms made major adjustments to their work environments, supporting employees became even more vital. One way that firms showed their support was to allow staff to work from home. At the beginning of 2021 for all firms, about two-thirds of staff at the median were in the office less than four days a week. Firms also continued to invest in their staff, spending $1,632 per professional on training, education, dues, and licensing at the median. This support helped team members be productive, and in fact, AUM and clients per professional increased significantly compared with 2016, as shown in the chart below.

Staff productivity over five years6


From the archives

Take a look back at prior years' data.

Participate in 2022

Participate in 2022

Understanding the best practices of other successful firms can help you more confidently make strategic decisions that delight clients and drive long-term growth. Gain those insights and many more by participating in the RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab—the largest study of its kind focusing on independent RIAs. Our 2021 study compiled data from 1,340 advisory firms representing more than $1.5 trillion in assets under management. Participating RIAs can compare their firms' performance on hundreds of key metrics with those of their peer group to track progress against strategic goals and identify opportunities for growth.

Visit our resource page to learn more about taking part in the 2022 RIA Benchmarking Study.

(0721-10TL)

About the 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab
Schwab designed this study to capture insights in the Registered Investment Advisor (RIA) industry based on survey responses from individual firms. The 2021 study provides information on topics such as asset and revenue growth, sources of new clients, products and pricing, staffing, compensation, marketing, technology, and financial performance. Since the inception of the study in 2006, more than 4,100 firms have participated, with many repeat participants. Fielded from late January to mid-March, the 2021 study contains self-reported data from 1,340 advisory firms that custody their assets with Schwab or TD Ameritrade and represent more than $1.5 trillion dollars in AUM, making this the leading study in the RIA industry. Schwab did not independently verify or validate the self-reported information. Participant firms represent various sizes and business models. They are categorized into seven peer groups by AUM size. The study is part of Schwab Business Consulting and Education, a practice management offering for RIAs. Grounded in the best practices of leading independent advisory firms, Business Consulting and Education provides insight, guidance, tools, and resources to help RIAs strategically manage and grow their firm. 

Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. ("Schwab") is a separate but affiliated company and subsidiary of The Charles Schwab Corporation ("Charles Schwab"). 

TD Ameritrade Institutional, Division of TD Ameritrade, Inc., member FINRA/SIPC, a subsidiary of The Charles Schwab Corporation. TD Ameritrade is a trademark jointly owned by TD Ameritrade IP Company, Inc. and The Toronto-Dominion Bank. 

Data represent median results by peer group (based on AUM) unless otherwise noted. Past performance is not an indicator of future results.

1. Median results and compound annual growth rates (CAGR) over the 5-year period from year-end 2015 through 2020 by peer group (based on AUM). Results do not include those firms that experienced a merger or added a new partner during this period.

2. Median results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM.

3. Top Performing Firms are those that rank in the top 20% of the Firm Performance Index. The index evaluates all firms in the study according to 15 metrics to arrive at a holistic assessment of each firm's performance across key business areas.

4. Results from the 2017 and 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab.

5. Top Performing Firms that generated leads among firms that tracked leads from each source.

6. Results from the 2017 and 2021 RIA Benchmarking Study from Charles Schwab. Median results for all firms with $250 million or more in AUM.