Amid the gloomy landscape stands an oasis: Shareholder Services Group.
About a year after Peter Mangan left TD Waterhouse Institutional in 2002, he along with Barry Boyte and a few other veterans of the RIA custody business started Shareholder Services Group (SSG). (See my April 2003 article.)
Initially, I had my doubts. Could a custodian focusing on small advisors compete? It was the middle of a bear market, and the established custodians were still struggling in the aftermath of 9/11. I feared they'd fall flat on their faces. Boy was I wrong.
SSG is now a custodian to 480 RIA firms and it is experiencing a boom amid the economic bust. While the $1.7 billion amount of assets SSG custodies for RIAs is dwarfed by the big-name custodians—Fidelity, Pershing, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade, SSG has built a profitable business around smaller RIAs that the larger custodians don’t value as much.
According to Boyte, since the market meltdown about 15 to 20 new RIA firms have been signing on with SSG each month.
About 75% of the new RIAs are registered reps coming from BDs, Boyte says, and the vast majority are dropping their securities licenses. With a new regulatory regime likely (see previous post), these registered reps seem anxious to move to a fee-only or fee-based business-model now rather than wait.
These advisors are probably moving now because they have less to lose. The stock market meltdown has eroded the value of their 12b-1 fees, making it easier to walk away from them.
Other custodians are saying they’re seeing an influx of new assets, too, but the details of SSG’s growth tell a compelling story.
“It’s a good business model,” says Boyte. “Peter Mangan laid it out in a business plan in 2002 and we’ve adhered to it very closely because it works. First and foremost, it’s about giving good quality service.”
How is SSG succeeding? Nothing fancy, no unbelievable tech story, no huge discounts. Just good service.
Boyte says SSG pricing is competitive versus other custodians, but what separates the firm is the deep experience of its principals and staff, and SSG’s sole focus the RIA custody business. In contrast, Fidelity, Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and Pershing are financial services behemoths with an RIA division.
Boyte says the firm is not trying to bring in more advisors because it fears service issues. SSG, he says, is able to maintain a high service level because it only hired personnel experienced in working with RIAs. “Everyone on staff here now worked with us at Jack White and TD Waterhouse,” says Boyte. “When we need a new person, we know where to go and who to speak to.”
Any advisor who is discouraged because of tough business conditions should take comfort from SSG’s story. If you’re smart enough to stay focused on your business model and on doing the right thing for people in this business, you, too, will probably be doing back-flips in a few years.
Posted: 2009-03-30 17:42:00
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