Schwab Advisor Services’ 2021 Independent Advisor Outlook Study

Press release copy

Schwab Advisor Services’ Independent Advisor Outlook Study (IAOS) gauges sentiment on topics and issues that are top-of-mind for independent advisors. Entering its 14th year and reflecting responses from RIAs on both the Schwab and TD Ameritrade Institutional platforms, the current wave provides a snapshot on the outlook for industry and firm growth, a look into the new realities for firms post-COVID, and insight into how advisors view innovation.

Bernie quote

“The independent advice industry has reached a new growth tipping point, driven by investors who appreciate the value of fiduciary advice and advisors who continue to raise the bar in creating the ideal client experience.

As advisors look ahead, continued innovation and operational flexibility will be critical to capturing opportunities for growth, serving evolving client needs, and differentiating in this increasingly competitive market.”

Bernie Clark, Executive Vice President, Head of Schwab Advisor Services

Press release copy con't

Advisors optimistic about growth of the industry and their practices in 2021 and beyond

Advisors are more bullish on the industry’s prospects for growth compared to August 2020. In fact, almost half of firms surveyed (47%) said they expect the RIA channel to grow at a faster rate than the market, up from 33% in August of last year.

Preference for the independent channel is the primary driver for growth, according to more than half (57%) of advisors surveyed. An increasing number of advisors also view RIA systems (including platforms and technology) and the increasing number of affluent investors as having an impact on the continued expansion of the independent channel.

At the firm level, almost all RIA firms (94%) expect growth in net new assets this year, with an average expected growth rate of 18% in net new assets by the end of 2021.

In terms of drivers for this anticipated growth, 9 out of 10 firms expect organic growth (existing and new clients) to have a greater impact than inorganic growth (M&A transactions and new advisors bringing in business).

Percent of organic & inorganic firm growth

Press release copy con't

Over the past year, advisors have added clients and adapted to new ways of working

Half of independent advisory firms (50%) added more clients in 2020 than in previous years despite the challenges presented during the global pandemic. In some cases, these new clients were different than RIA firms’ existing client base, with some advisors noting new clients are more tech savvy, younger, more affluent, and more diverse than current clients.

Most advisors (72%) report they become more flexible in adapting to change due to COVID-19, and they have developed new workflows (56%) and gotten to know their clients better (28%).

Changes to serving clients due to COVID-19

In a post COVID-19 era, advisors expect that the ways in which they communicate and the physical location of their teams to be lasting changes at their firms, with regular use of video conferencing calls, remote work, and the need for less office space listed as the top three lasting changes.

Top anticipated lasting changes due to COVID-19

Recruiting will also look different at half of RIA firms with many advisors noting it will be easier to attract talent from a wider geographic radius.

Lasting effects on recruiting for those who mention an impact...

Press release copy con't

Technology industry drives innovation

Six out of 10 firms (59%) view the technology industry as the primary driver of innovation in the RIA industry today, and 65% believe that continued innovation will come equally from within the RIA industry as well as by adopting innovations from other industries.

Top drivers of innovation in RIA industry today

Biggest opportunities for innovation to drive growth in RIA industry


About the survey

The Independent Advisor Outlook Study (IAOS) is an online study conducted for Charles Schwab by Logica Research.  Logica Research is neither affiliated with, nor employed by, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

The survey responses come from 953 independent investment advisors who custody assets with Schwab or TD Ameritrade Institutional, representing a total of $400B in assets under management (AUM). The survey has a three percent margin of error at the 95% confidence level. Participation is voluntary, participants are not incentivized, and the typical (median) survey length was 11 minutes. The study was conducted from April 13 through April 26, 2021.

Detailed findings can be found here.


Schwab Advisor ServicesTM serves independent investment advisors and includes the custody, trading and support services of Schwab.  Independent investment advisors are not owned by, affiliated with, or supervised by Schwab.  © 2021 Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. ("Schwab") All rights reserved. Member SIPC.