As we approach the end of the year, we wish all of our readers a peaceful, joyous, and healthy holiday season. For this end-of-year post, I asked each of our contributors to share a takeaway from 2021 and something to watch for in 2022. We all know that 2021 had its ups and downs for the markets, our businesses, and most importantly our clients. 

Matt PotterMatt Potter, CFA 

Key insight from 2021

2021 was a poignant reminder of just how hard it can be to remain a long-term, committed investor. There was no shortage of worrisome news (e.g., Omicron), which might tempt someone to move into cash and shiny objects (such as cryptocurrencies). These temptations can carry excessive risk. Staying disciplined and sticking to an investment plan sometimes proved challenging, and I can imagine that advisors needed to have frequent conversations to keep their clients on track.

One thing to watch for 2022

Whether or not investors can exercise patience. The global economy is facing several significant issues—COVID-19, supply chain disruptions, inflation—for which there might not be quick fixes. Will investors be satisfied with seeing incremental positive developments, when the pace of change is more gradual than they would like? Similarly, many important diversifying asset classes, such as emerging markets equity and debt, have struggled this year. If they don’t experience a sharp turnaround in 2022, will some investors simply give up on them altogether? I have a hunch that 2022 will test many of us.

Harley NagerHarley Nager

Key insight from 2021

Unusual business is now business as usual. The wealth management industry reacted and adapted quickly during the initial shockwave of the pandemic in 2020. It is now clear that many of the initial changes we have made will be here for the long term. Our clients, staff, and industry have proven to be more agile, resilient, and adaptable than many could have imagined. 2021 has given us time to settle into our “new normal,” and we now have a view into what that could look like for the long term. Many of us have had to adjust our mental models to move on from assumptions like, “clients will not want to meet virtually,” or “my older clients aren’t comfortable with technology.” Frameworks and routines must change over time. The more flexible and open-minded we are, the better we will be for ourselves and our clients.

One thing to watch for 2022

Margin compression will continue. The importance of scale, depth of advice, and improving the client experience will continue to increase. Investors have become more aware of how they pay for advice, resulting in fee compression related to investment products. Wealth management firms have not yet experienced fee compression, however, with more firms adopting financial planning and expanded services to remain competitive and differentiated, and increasing costs associated with compliance, advisor margins are shrinking. The pace of this trend is increasing; firms will need to continue to scale efficiently in order to help more clients in a more meaningful way.

Shauna MaceShauna Mace

Key insight from 2021

Advisory teams and their clients made huge strides in their use of technology to engage and provide advice thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a meaningful shift in the use and acceptance of digital engagement and technology. 

Many advisory firms have figured out how to work and support their team remotely. For a number of firms that means hybrid or completely virtual work environments, increased efficiencies, and a decrease in operating expenses as they downsize or ditch their physical office. 

Investors have fully embraced technology and digital meetings. In case you don’t believe me, Absolute Engagement and Investments & Wealth Institute Investor Research surveyed 750 high-net-worth investors in 2021 to gain insight into their view of virtual meetings. A whopping 76% agreed that it was possible to have meaningful conversations with their advisor when meeting virtually. Moreover, nearly three-quarters of those clients said the quality of the virtual review was as good or better than an in-person review. 

Gone are the days of only in-person meetings and events. 

Thriving firms have figured out how to provide a more flexible experience, to meet their employees and clients where they are (literally), and maintain (or enhance) their level of service thanks to technology. 

One thing to watch for 2022

The pendulum swung far in the direction of digital engagement and technology to meet the new challenges (and opportunities) presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. I predict that we’ll see (and feel) the pressure to figure out how to humanize our largely digital engagement in 2022. 

Whether it’s how you interact with your prospects, clients, or teams, I expect many advisors and the industry as a whole will be looking for a more human-centric approach. Technology has provided enormous efficiencies and introduced new ways to run and grow your business, and support your clients, but it’s hard to completely replace the human experience.

While at the 2021 Veres Conference in Nashville, TN, this year, the hot topic in breakouts and on advisors’ minds was their team. Human capital and experience will be a hot topic in 2022. 

J. WomackJ. Womack

Key insight from 2021

This year, the pace of deal activity around direct indexing capability has been really interesting. It is driven by the general recognition that the ability to deliver personalized portfolios for clients is a critical need going into the future.

 

One thing to watch for 2022

Firms will continue to focus on direct indexing capabilities as a gateway to providing personalized portfolios. The key word there is a portfolio—most clients don’t buy only equity index exposure. The industry will need to tackle what personalization means in the context of a unified managed account (UMA). That’s already our focus at SEI, so it will be interesting to see what we see from other providers in 2022 and beyond.

John AndersonJohn Anderson

Key insight from 2021

Financial advice has never been more important or needed than it was in 2021. Advisors focusing on personal relationships, providing real-time advice, and true planning have proven invaluable and have differentiated themselves in a crowded marketplace. Successful advisors have adapted to meet the needs of clients who are seeking personalized, customized, and transparent relationships faster than anyone could predict. They’re doing it by leveraging technology to meet their scale needs. 

One thing to watch for 2022

The pace of consolidation in the Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) business will continue to grow, putting pressure on the roll-up firms, via their private equity backers, to increase profitability covering the higher and higher multiples that are being paid. The push will continue to lead to mass customization with a focus on ultra-high net worth clients. This leaves great opportunities for independent financial advisory firms, ones that specialize in specific clients and their unique needs. Look for successful firms to increasingly exploit their niches and independence.

We hope you have a great holiday season and we look forward to continuing the conversations next year. Happy New Year from all of us at Practically Speaking. 

Investing involves risk including possible loss of principal Diversification may not protect against market risk. 

Direct indexing is an approach to index investing that involves buying the individual stocks that make up an index. A unified managed account (UMA) is an investment account that can include a variety of securities, such as mutual funds, stocks, and bonds, among others. These securities are often components of investment of strategies managed by one or more third party professional money managers.

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