The wealth management industry hasn't been shy about boasting that times are good.

"Part of the reason," says Greg Fleming, president of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, "is that clients recognize the importance of advice."

It also helps to be profitable.

On Wall Street reported that third-quarter wealth management profits jumped 22% at Wells Fargo; 17% at Morgan; and 13% at Bank of America units Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust.

Meanwhile, profits soared 46% at Raymond James Financial, primarily from strong growth within the firm’s private client group, which includes both employee and independent advisory channels.

Advisory firm executives in this month’s cover story discuss how their businesses are finally getting around to meeting long-planned priorities, now that they’ve put the financial crisis well behind them. In more than a dozen interviews, associate editor Andrew Welsch and contributor Suleman Din learned how firms plan to shift their focus to further improvements in training and developing technology, particularly to address client retirement planning.

Diversity efforts also may soon appear on the horizon. "Our firm needs to not only improve in racial diversity, but also in gender diversity," says Ronald J. Kruszewski, CEO of Stifel Financial Corp. ""I absolutely have been working to get a female on my board, and I am mad at myself that I have not been able to get that done. And, yes, I will."

Probably the most promising development is that firms may finally start to fill the vacuum left by retiring advisors.

Cerulli Associates finds this may indeed be the case, predicting that, over the short term, the advisor head count across all channels will increase 1% annually over the next three to four years. After that, Cerulli expects the count will start to shrink again, as the number of retirements increases.

It’s a small start, but it shows that wealth management firms may finally be serious about backing priorities they’ve had on the books for years.

Next year, we’ll be sure to analyze just how well they did.


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