Most CEOs expect the overall number of advisers to shrink over the next five years, according to a new survey of executives at top industry firms. At the same time, these executives anticipate a jump in digital planning services.

About 65% of executives who participated in a poll last month conducted by research and consulting firm Tiburon Strategic Advisors predicted the decline for human planners. The same group of 165 top managers foresee online planning, advice and banking achieving the highest market-share growth among any retail channel over the next five years.

CEO survey

“This is a recognition by the leadership of these companies that digital advice is going to play a much more prominent role,” says Uday Singh, a partner in the financial institutions practice at management and consulting firm A.T. Kearney.

The predictions reflect the long-term impact from the adoption of robo platforms, according to Singh. “Using digital tools, the current crop of advisers can serve a larger number of clients. So you need fewer advisers,” Singh said.

Only 8% of the executives in last month's survey said the number of advisers will increase over the next five years, while 27% said the overall figure will hold steady. But the total adviser headcount tracked by Tiburon has fallen every year since 2009.

“The number of advisers will stagnate,” managing partner Chip Roame said in a conference call with clients of the Tiburon, California-based firm last week.

About 67% of respondents predicted sluggish results at the largest brokerages over the next five years, while 33% forecasted moderate growth. No one in the poll thought there would be "huge" growth in the future at wirehouses.

CEOs survey

The total number of advisers in 2016 — including those at full-service brokerages, independent firms, insurance companies, bank brokerages and trusts and small shops serving ultra-wealthy clients — was 301,126, a decline of less than 0.50% from 302,531 in the previous year, according to Tiburon’s data.

The number has fallen steadily each year from 336,088 advisers in 2008 and its peak of 339,920 in 2005. Roame cautioned that the figure may not include all staff at RIAs who act as advisers.

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