The key themes that underpin the advice industry’s long-term growth are the same factors that will drive the formation of multidisciplinary super firms in the next five to 10 years.
Against a backdrop of strong demand for professional advice, falling adviser numbers and fragmentation, the conditions are ripe for large, formidable advisory firms to emerge from the amalgamation of small to medium-sized practices (SMEs). Other themes supporting this trend include higher barriers to entry and the corporatisation of SMEs.
These advice mega firms will be akin to the mid-tier in accounting and professional services.
In professional services, there is the Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PWC) followed by a pack of hungry challengers. That group includes recognisable, respected brands like BDO, Findex, Grant Thornton, PKF, Pitcher Partners and RSM.
They are smart and efficient with significant capability, capacity and scale.
The core bring in between $30 million and $100 million in annual revenue. At the top, it’s closer to $300 million.
While heralding the arrival of super firms in financial advice may seem premature given financial planning was still considered a cottage industry only 20 years ago, the concept is underpinned by the aforementioned themes (increased demand, diminished supply, fragmentation and corporatisation).
There is also an increasing realisation that running a highly efficient, profitable advice firm requires meaningful scale.
Scale enables businesses to drive cost savings and spread fixed and variable costs over a larger number of clients. It reduces the cost to serve, increases profit margins and improves competitiveness. It expands a business’ capacity to service new and existing customers.
For a mid-sized general financial planning practice with revenue of $5 million or less, the challenge is to become a $10-$15 million firm relatively quickly to ensure the best chance of success in the face of rising costs, heightened competition and increasing regulator and consumer expectations.
To double turnover in a specific timeframe, businesses need an effective strategy to boost their rate of growth.
The best way to do that is to expand their capability and capacity.
As more and more advisers retire ahead of 1 January 2026; the deadline to meet FASEA’s higher education and training standards, there will be plenty of opportunity for advisers to do that through M&A.
Super firms may be closer than we think.
A matter of time
In a sea of advice SMEs, Shadforth Financial Group stands out as large, corporatised business but, by and large, the industry has failed to develop businesses beyond a certain size.
The late Robert Keavney and his partner Glenese did it in the 2000s when they joined Malcolm and Lucy Turnbull and the Pillemer family to form Centrestone. That business went on to merge with Glen Castensen and partners at Berkley Group to become Centric Wealth.
About the deal, Pillemer said both businesses lacked scale. “It is really about strengthening both businesses for the future and providing a real alternative for advisers and their clients,” he said at the time.
Before the group’s eventual sale to Financial Index Wealth Accountants (Findex) it had purchased over 50 advisory firms and employed around 450 staff.
Inside the AZ NGA network, a number of firms are looking for opportunities to scale up by partnering with complementary business to form large, multidisciplinary firms.
Large licensees like AMP are also ideally positioned to drive the establishment of super firms by facilitating deals and supporting businesses to merge.
One way or the other, the advice mid-tier is coming. They will have strong, recognisable brands, backed by a sharp service and value proposition.
When they arrive, small generalist businesses will become even more endangered than they already are.