New RIA accounts up 164% at Fidelity in third quarter

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Fidelity Clearing & Custody notched a record rise in customer accounts as more clients seek out financial advice.

The custodian’s new RIA customer accounts were up 164% year-over-year by the end of September, according to the Boston-based company. Fidelity spokeswoman Nicole Abbott declined to provide the specific number of accounts.

Business was also good within the custodian’s retail channel, which offers clients robo advice and has a full-service wealth management arm. Approximately 34% more households were using Fidelity’s financial planning services than in the three-month period in 2019, according to Fidelity.

More clients have been seeking out financial advice in 2020 at Fidelity to the benefit of RIAs and their custodian. COVID-related issues such as stalled job growth since June could have helped trigger that demand.

The boost in new client accounts has helped custodians ease the burden of reduced commission revenue and the low-interest-rate environment. In the third quarter, competitor Charles Schwab reeled in $51 billion in net new assets and 592,000 new brokerage accounts.

Fidelity has been building out its retail advice offerings this year, including Fidelity Spire, a mobile app it launched in July to help clients save, plan and invest for their long- and short-term goals. Fidelity offered clients who downloaded the software a onetime $5 signup bonus.

Growth at the custodian also coincides with its new robo advisory pricing model. Fidelity Go is now free for the first $10,000 in assets, then charges a flat $3 monthly fee. After $50,000, it charges a 0.35% annual fee.

On the advisory side, Fidelity added a new wealth management platform that brings together financial planning and investment management tools. Earlier this year it released a fixed-income trading tool for advisors dubbed Bond Beacon.

Fidelity has been adding new accounts throughout the year. At the end of May, the company said it had opened more than 100,000 new accounts within Fidelity Institutional, the investment firm’s arm that services broker-dealers, RIAs and hedge funds.

At the end of September, Fidelity safehoused $2.5 trillion in broker-dealer and RIA assets, according to the company.

Cerulli Associates estimated the company serviced approximately 2,491 RIAs with $1.1 trillion in assets at the end of 2019. Abbott declined to confirm those figures.

“We’re increasingly seeing broker-dealers convert parts of their business to the RIA model, so it’s more difficult to break out the assets that way,” Abbott says.

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