Any way you slice it, 2021 seems like it will be a good year for munis, and not because the financial condition of municipalities is so great (it isn’t!). One of the main reasons why is the incoming administration and Congress. Between Biden’s stimulus plans and the now Democrat-controlled Senate, the odds for large amounts of local and state financial support from the federal government are quite high. This part of equation is well understood, but there is a second aspect of the Democrats’ plans that will also be beneficial to munis: they plan to raise taxes on the wealthy. Higher taxes on the wealthy would directly increase demand for munis bonds, which means they should have a tailwind this year.
FINSUM: The part about increased taxes and how it drives muni demand has not been discussed enough. We think this is an excellent angle and combined with financial stimulus, should set up a couple years of smooth sailing.
Here is a non-sensical but fully logical sentence for you: bonds just aren’t “bonds” right now. What we mean is that bonds simply aren’t fulfilling their long-understood role any longer. They yield very little and have a great deal of risk—both the opposite of their traditional role. So where can advisors turn? One increasingly interesting area is annuities, and fixed index annuities in particular. They offer the downside protection investors need, and upside participation everyone wants. Principal is never put at risk to the market, but interest from the initial purchase is used to participate in upside. In other words, you have principal protection with some upside potential—just like bonds have traditionally been used.
FINSUM: Fixed index annuities seem to be a very good alternative to bonds in the current environment.
There are so many things for a broker to consider before going independent. Aside from all the main ones that are usually discussed—compensation, freedom with clients etc—another key concern is branding. Many brokers have trouble leaving the big name on their business card behind when changing firms. Even advisors who are already at RIAs have a big choice to make in changing their branding. All of this highlights a key point: branding and marketing matter a great deal when going independent, and the support the new RIA provides is critical. Essentially, an important question to ask your potential new RIA is what kind of branding and marketing support they provide to help you transition existing clients, but also acquire new ones.
FINSUM: Marketing and branding are crucial areas where RIAs can vary wildly. Those with strong offerings will empower advisors to acquire new clients and grow AUM, where weak offerings can lead to client attrition and few new opportunities.
The general understanding among wealth management regulatory experts has been that the Biden administration was not overly likely to overturn Reg BI. However, that faith might be waning in the face of some developments out of Congress. The House Financial Services Committee, led by Maxine Waters, has been adamantly pushing for Biden to completely overturn the rule and bring in new legislation. To this point, most thought Biden would simply install a new SEC chair that would become a stronger enforcer of the rule rather than trying to write an entirely new one. And with the name of former prosecutor Preet Bharara as the rumored next head of the SEC, the focus on enforcement makes sense.
FINSUM: We wonder to what extent Biden might reward his Democratic allies in Congress by pushing an agenda that writes an entirely new rule. On the one hand, it does not appear too farfetched, but on the other, it seems Reg BI may be way down the priority list given the pandemic.
WealthManagement.com has run an interesting article about the role of technology in our industry. Authored by Adam Malamed, former COO of Ladenburg Thalmann, the piece discusses how technology should be employed in wealth management, and what has separated successful from unsuccessful technologies. Adam makes the point that while new technologies may be nice in themselves, they are useless unless they fulfil a real market need, which is why so many previously hyped technologies have gone bust (e.g. facial recognition tech for client pitches). Furthermore, the industry itself has been experiencing heavy margin compression, and therefore wealth tech companies need to find ways to simultaneously increase operating margins while also improving client experience. One great example the article makes is Docusign, which made document execution immensely simpler, while also reducing the costs of
processing paperwork. It is a win for clients and for firms.
FINSUM: We couldn’t agree more with this view. Change in our space is by its very nature evolutionary. Clients don’t want to take risks on new tech with capital that took them fifty years to earn, and therefore, many wealth management firms are reticent to adopt “disruptive” new technologies.