Bank wealth management businesses are slowly crawling back to the revenue levels they enjoyed prior to the financial crisis.  So far this year, they have racked up $45.2 billion in revenue, just $1.7 billion shy of the $46.9 billion they generated in 2007, according to Wayne Cutler, managing director of Novantas, a management consulting firm.

In his presentation at the Raymond James Financial Institutions Division Symposium in Orlando this week, Cutler pointed to other indicators of bank investment program’s growing health. Wealth penetration ratios – which measure how many bank customers have at least one investment product with the bank—are edging up. In 2013, the majority of bank programs (44%) had wealth penetration ratios of 6% to 8%.  Historically they’ve been in the range of 3% to 5%. 

The robust growth rate of the programs, however, was the most powerful indicator of health.  On average, bank investment programs grew revenue by 17% this year, in contrast to commercial banking revenues, which grew at an anemic 1.7%, Cutler said.

The banks are planning to keep up the pace, aiming to grow revenues by 16% over the next two years. The ambitious growth will likely come from the appreciation of assets under management and the resulting fees and from cross-selling to the existing retail bank customer base.  It is also likely to come from hiring new advisors and culling low-performing ones, Culter said in an email.

While firms will undoubtedly need to hire more advisors, many will look to increase the productivity of their existing advisors given the difficult recruiting environment.

Raymond James Financial Services appears to be taking that approach. At the symposium in Orlando, Scott Curtis, president of Raymond James Financial Services, noted that the firm’s focus was on the quality, not the quantity, of advisors.

“We’re not maniacally focused on how many advisors we have affiliated with the firm,” he said. “We don’t have an objective to have an X-number of thousands of advisors at some year in the future. Our focus is on asset growth and helping you to be more productive,” he told the advisors and program managers gathered for a town hall meeting with senior executives of the firm.

The focus on quality has proven to be a good strategy, Curtis said, noting that the firm’s productivity is up substantially from five years ago. The average advisor produces $410,000, up from $285,000 four years ago. More than 208 advisors are $1 million-plus advisors, a large jump from 85 three to five years ago, Curtis said.

“Our focus on quality of advisors, not quantity of advisors, has helped improve that productivity number,” he said.

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