Feb 24, 2019

How to make money the old-fashioned way

Animated GIF of briefcase with dollar signs coming from it

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Ken Fisher doesn't care about millennials, or apps, or disrupting anything; he's in all respects the epitome of the kind of investment manager that younger, cooler startups are attempting to disrupt. So far, there's no sign that they've made so much as a dent in his revenues.

The backdrop: Fisher's firm, Fisher Investments, now manages $100 billion. RIABiz, an investment-advisory trade publication, estimates that he's generating $1 billion a year in revenues.

  • In a world where Fidelity is offering mutual funds with zero expense ratio and no minimum investment, Fisher Investments turns away potential customers with less than $500,000 to invest, and charges an eye-popping 1.5% on the first $475,000 of that amount. Those obstacles haven't stopped the money from pouring in: Fisher's assets under management continued to grow in 2018, even as the broad market saw a substantial decline.

Fisher's comparative advantage is in sales and marketing. His advertising budget has been so large for so long that his name recognition is super-high; he is also happy to use his own billionaire status as a way to attract clients. His product is designed to appeal to older investors, often retirees, who like to talk to a fellow human about their finances, and who don't mind paying more than 1% of their assets every year in order to be able to do so.

  • By the numbers: Every client with more than $10 million under management is generating a six-figure annual revenue for Fisher Investments. That kind of money buys a lot of TV ads.

The bottom line: It's going to be decades before millennials have the kind of wealth that Fisher's clients enjoy, which means that Fisher Investments has the luxury of time on its side. Meanwhile, the venture capitalists who have invested in smaller shops are not just chasing younger, poorer investors; they're also much less patient. For the time being, then, the dinosaurs still have the advantage.

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