Specialist Advisors Get Twice as Many Assets, Study Finds

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Practice management experts often recommend that advisors focus on a specific niche to expand their practice. A new study shows just how effective that can be.

In fact, advisors who specialize manage nearly double the client assets of their peers, according to a study of 7,000 advisors conducted by research firm Cerulli Associates.

Planners with specialized practices controlled about 29% of industry assets as of June 30, even though they made up only about 15% of overall advisors, according to the study. The firm declined to provide specific numbers for average assets under management for advisors with and without specialization.

“I think advisors often get there by accident,” says Bing Waldert, a Cerulli director. “When they start to have success in the market, they identify a type of person that they like being with and that they are good at serving, and [targeting that demographic] becomes a way to balance scalability with specialization.”

“It becomes somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he adds. “You start to traffic in certain social circles. You start to set up your practice to service this kind of constituent.”


Retirement plan specialists are perhaps the most common focus area in the wealth advisory world, Waldert says. Other broad specialities could include high-net-worth clients or institutional clients, such as nonprofits or businesses, with investments to manage.

Others may be more narrow. San Francisco-based Iconiq Capital, for example, has grown to more than $5 billion in assets under management largely by attracting clients from Facebook, Waldert says.

Other specializations Cerulli encountered in the course of its research, says Waldert, include:

  • divorced women or, more generally, women in transition
  • engineers (who tend to be numbers-driven)
  • college professors (many of whom are bookish learners)
  • airline pilots
  • government contractors

“The one we’ve been hit over the head with is women in transition,” Waldert says.
Cerulli recommends that broker-dealers establish programs to support specialization, such as deploying business specialists to help advisors develop the ability to serve specific client groups. They should also seek to recruit advisors who are already doing this.

“Specialization is kind of a hallmark of a really successful practice,” Waldert says.

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