Advisor sentiment edged upward for the second month in a row in March, reaching a level not seen since last May, as equity optimism combined with a rebound in fees.
A big jump in clients’ risk appetite helped drive the Retirement Advisor Confidence Index — Financial Planning’s monthly barometer of business conditions for wealth managers — up 1.4 points to 54.7 from the previous month’s 53.3. One key factor was a roughly 10-point increase in perceived client risk tolerance. (RACI readings of less than 50 indicate declines, while readings of more than 50 indicate expansion.)
Advisors also continued to move away from cash, and increased equity allocations at a greater rate. One advisor cited “general bullishness about stock investing” from clients.
Asked to focus on February activity, advisors noted some seasonal business increases. The index was bolstered by a 3-point increase in reported retirement planning fees, with respondents crediting consumer optimism, baby boomer rollovers and a greater need for planning amid rising profits.
And in one interesting wrinkle, a planner noted that discussions in Washington about the fiduciary rule have actually boosted business. “Talk about fees in retirement plans has led to several calls from clients questioning what they’re charged and how I’m paid,” the advisor reported. “Far from being negative ... an open and frank discussion about the topic has led to an increase in AUM in my fee-based platforms.”
The index is composed of 10 factors — including asset allocations, investment product recommendations, economic and risk factors, taxes and planning fees — to track trends in wealth management business cycles.