Our annual RIA Leaders rankings give a great sense of how the industry stacked up in 2013. But after poring over the names and numbers in the charts (expanded to 100 firms this year from 50), I wondered, what will the list look like a year from now? Will some of the big powerhouses in the top 10 switch places? How will the fastest-growing firms alter the rankings?

You don't have to wait 12 months to get an idea about the answers. Our RIA Leaders cover story analyzes the 2013 list and is also filled with clues on which firms have the strongest momentum as we begin a new year.

The highly fragmented nature of the RIA space, with more than 19,000 firms nationwide, means the M&A game is assuredly in the early innings, offering the likelihood of scores of small practices being acquired and midsize firms growing rather quickly. Indeed, when discussing the latest results with senior editor Ann Marsh, she was struck by the asset growth of firms that had barely been on our radar.

"The jockeying between newcomers and the old guard is what I find so fascinating," she says. "To think that an upstart like Creative Planning could come out of nowhere and, in less than a decade, grow to the size of an Oxford Financial or a Rockefeller & Co. is truly astonishing."

Creative, which roared to No. 5 with $7.8 billion in assets under management, is a numbers play - its 21,182 client accounts, according to the firm's Form ADV filing in September, is the most of any firm on our list, with 27% more client accounts than the firm with the second-highest total.

"It's no wonder that Creative founder Peter Mallouk's competitors struggle to explain his success," Marsh says. "When I spoke with Mallouk, he told me that his company's fast growth indicates there's tremendous room for improvement in the industry. As an estate-planning attorney, Mallouk thinks he offers services and a perspective that most of his competitors cannot. If he's right, that could mean that there's more opportunity for outsiders to make a mark in this young field than anybody fully realizes."

As full of hope as that sounds, Marsh's story includes this note of caution from industry expert Mark Tibergien, CEO of Pershing Advisor Solutions: "With rapid growth comes more risk. More companies fail in their growth phase than in any other phase." I expect that means many planning executives will be pondering their own risk-reward equations in the year ahead.

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