Being at the back end of a network of independent investment advisers is an increasingly attractive way to gain scale. Even when people can trade online in a bevy of ways by themselves, many still seek out trusted advice of some kind from a human.
RIAs in recent years have also been growing faster than traditional wirehouse brokers, like at Morgan Stanley or Bank of America’s Merrill, by some measures. The number of RIA firms grew by about 4% from 2018 to 2019, according to Aite Group. Analyst Devin Ryan at JMP Securities said independent adviser head count has been growing about 10% annually, while the overall industry is shrinking modestly. Independent RIA custody is already a huge business for Schwab, and will get bigger when it completes its pending deal with Ameritrade. Now Goldman and Morgan Stanley via E*Trade, which had itself acquired an independent adviser business, will be in the RIA custody business too. At Goldman, Folio custody will sit within its global markets business, feeding into its vast trading business.