Female advisor meeting with male client at hotel lobby

As investors’ incomes are squeezed, wealth managers’ net flows are likely to decline in 2023, according to Fitch Ratings.

In a new report, the rating agency said it’s expecting a “modest fall” in fee-generating assets under management and assets under administration for European wealth managers in the year ahead, thanks to a combination of negative market effects and lower inflows from clients.

“Financial market volatility is likely to continue in 2023 as high inflation, interest rate rises and the economic slowdown continue to unsettle investors,” it said.

These same forces are expected to weigh on both asset values and client flows, which will in turn impact firms’ revenues and earnings.

“The pressure on asset values, net inflows and resulting management fees is reflected in Fitch’s ‘deteriorating’ sub-sector outlook for traditional investment managers in 2023,” the rating agency said.

“Wealth managers focused on the mass retail segment are likely to be more affected given their clients’ greater vulnerability to higher living costs,” it said.

Distribution structure will also matter, Fitch noted.

“Firms using third-party distribution networks or internal adviser models where distribution costs are linked to AUM volumes are likely to be less affected, while those that directly employ relationship managers could face rising salary costs despite falling management fees,” it said.

However, the report also noted that the negative impact of declining assets on firms’ credit profiles “should be limited due to companies’ generally large scale, diversified business and sound profit margins.”

Alongside the pressure on assets, firms’ profitability will likely also be affected by ongoing investments in systems, particularly cybersecurity measures, the report said.

“Most of the productivity gains from IT enhancements will only materialize in the longer term,” it noted.

Additionally, regulatory and reputational risks are “key vulnerabilities for wealth managers,” Fitch said.

“Product suitability is attracting increasing attention from regulators in most developed markets, due to new EU regulation linked to clients’ ESG preferences and high retail appetite for non-traditional financial products in recent years, including illiquid and digital assets,” it said.