Solo practitioners without successors aren't the only ones at risk. Advisory firms in all corners of the market eventually will be affected by the looming labor shortage.
"Not enough young people are coming into the industry," said Ric Edelman, chairman and CEO of Edelman Financial, one of the largest registered investment advisor firms in the country. "All advisors see this as an issue in the industry, but they see it as someone else's problem."
There are two sides to the problem. The first is the still unfavorable perception of the industry post-financial crisis—particularly among millennials.
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"Between [Bernie] Madoff, the Facebook IPO and the financial crisis generally, things have not been good from a P.R. perspective for the financial services industry," said Tom Nally, president of TD Ameritrade Institutional, which serves as custodian for independent registered investment advisors. What's more, young people tend not to distinguish between financial planners and commissioned brokers.
"What financial planners do may be different [from a commissioned broker] but, to a 25-year-old, it seems like nuance," said Joni Youngwirth, managing principal at Commonwealth Financial Network. "A lot of young people perceive the industry as being about making the rich richer, not helping the average family save for their retirement or put their kids through college." And perceptions don't change overnight.