SAN FRANCISCO - The investable assets of U.S. consumers have fully recovered from the financial meltdown of 2008, presenting independent wealth managers with one of the best opportunities within the financial services industry -- particularly for those who serve the wealthiest clients.

That’s the view of Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, which uses research and case studies on hundreds of corporate, venture capital and private equity clients to take the current pulse of the investment industry.

“Wealth management is possibly the best opportunity in financial services” right now, said Roame, who presented his latest findings at his firm’s Tiburon CEO Summit XXV conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.

The non-retirement investable assets of Americans rose to $34 trillion in the second quarter of this year, according to the latest federal data, up more than 40% from the same period in 2008. Retirement assets, meanwhile, have risen more than 30% since the nadir of the recession to $18 trillion, according to Roame.

And U.S. net worth reached $75 trillion in the second quarter -- up 20% since 2008.

“Now that’s a recovery,” Roame said, even as he acknowledged that the U.S. economic recovery of the last five years has been uneven.


While assets have surpassed levels held just before the mortgage crisis hit in 2008, huge financial behemoths such as BlackRock and Bank of America (which owns No. 1 retail brokerage Merrill Lynch) have no more than a mid-single-digit share each of the asset management industry, Roame said.

“This is the opportunity; It’s still a fragmented industry,” said Roame. “You don’t have to be huge to succeed.”

But, he said,  firms that cater to high-net-worth clients have an advantage. While the average U.S. household has $268,000 in investable assets, most of that money is concentrated in the top 8% of households.

The median household has just $8,200 to invest, Roame said, citing the latest government data.


Roame sees another opportunity in the a growing number of Americans who are managing -- or attempting to manage -- their own investment portfolios, and may be splitting their asset management across multiple firms.

They may not be pleased with the results, he noted, since research shows that actively managed accounts tend to, on average, underperform a portfolio based on strategic asset allocation.

“Tactical doesn’t work,” Roame said.

It's particularly problematic for baby boomers, less than 2% of whom have an inheritance of any significance coming, he said. (“If you’re waiting for the inheritance boom, it ain’t gonna happen,” said Roame.)

Still, the trend toward more active management by consumers is presenting opportunities for some smaller firms -- especially those that already have a relationship with consumers.

“Those trends are helping us,” said Frank Trotter, president of EverBank Direct, based in St. Louis, which provides wealth management along with retail banking services, in comments Roame shared during his keynote speech.

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