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Private wealth enjoys its ‘best conditions in 30 years’

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13 October, 2021 by Aleks Vickovich, Financial Review

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Private wealth advisers are riding the $2.3 trillion green investing boom and bulging assets of Australia’s richest people to record revenues while advisers to mum-and-dad investors face a profitability crisis.

Chief executives of private wealth advisory firms told Citi’s annual investment conference on Wednesday they were experiencing “favourable macro tailwinds” as many high-net-worth Australians became richer during the coronavirus pandemic.

”This segment [of wealthy investors] is growing rapidly and, if anything, COVID-19 has accelerated the wealth that this segment controls,” said Paul Heath, CEO of Koda Capital “The reality is that if you own property assets, many business assets or investment assets, your wealth has increased.”

That has proven a boon for advisers to wealthy individuals and families, who have been forced to jack up fees charged to clients over the past decade as regulations have cut off traditional revenue sources such as lucrative commissions from fund managers.

“When COVID-19 could have held us back, we’ve seen record growth in the past two years,” said Terry Dillon, chief executive of Shadforth Financial Group, a private wealth subsidiary of ASX-listed IOOF. “It is a very attractive environment – probably the most attractive I can remember in 30 years.”

(L-R) Citi analyst Nigel Pittaway, Koda Capital CEO Paul Heath, Perpetual Private group executive Mark Smith and Shadforth CEO Terry Dillon at the Citi conference.  

Perpetual Private group executive Mark Smith concurred, pointing to the 6-7 per cent growth rate in the population of high-net-worth Australians each year, which equates to about 1 million individuals and prospective clients. “We would expect these favourable conditions to continue for at least the next five to seven years,” Mr Smith said.

Loss-making enterprise

The rosy sentiment from business leaders in the private wealth market stands in stark contrast to the challenges facing wealth advisers downstream, servicing regular retail clients in suburban, regional and rural communities.

Modelling conducted by KPMG and revealed by The Australian Financial Review on Tuesday found the average cost of providing financial advice for an average financial planning firm exceeded the price paid by consumers by up to 30 per cent, indicating it was a loss-making enterprise.

Separate research conducted by the professional services giant last year suggested few consumers were willing to pay more than $1500 a year for financial advice – well below KPMG’s estimate of the average price of $3660.

By contrast, Mr Heath said Koda Capital believed its clients should be able to contribute about $20,000 a year towards their financial advice fees. Mr Dillon said few clients grumbled about rising fees but they did expect an increasingly high level of service and more face-to-face time with advisers.

The opportunity for private wealth firms was exacerbated by a diminishing number of practitioners across the industry. The size of the financial adviser workforce contracted by 12 per cent last year, according to research house Adviser Ratings. It is on track to be 50 per cent lower in 2023 than it was in 2018 before the Hayne royal commission disrupted the sector.

“Demand is increasing and supply is decreasing, which is an attractive place to be if you can get the economics right and set your business up the right way,” said Mr Heath, a former chief of National Australia Bank’s JBWere private wealth arm.

The incredible boom in demand for investments with a focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors was another tailwind for private wealth firms specialising in this nascent market, estimated by Morningstar to be worth US$1.7 trillion ($2.3 trillion) and growing.

“The biggest demand we see is an increase in social purpose in investing, whether you call it ESG or impact investing,” Mr Heath said, projecting that the niche would become even more lucrative as wealth was transferred from Baby Boomers to Generation X and Millennial beneficiaries over the next three decades.

Mr Dillon quoted internal research that suggested 70 per cent of Shadforth clients were already investing with an ESG lens or planned to begin doing so.

“Some didn’t quite understand [the topic], so there is still some education to do,” he said.


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