RIA Custodians

Asset custodians are the central players in the RIA business and choosing one is the biggest decision most financial advisors will make to build their business. As the place where RIAs park their assets (the same way a captive broker would park assets at Merrill Lynch or UBS), custodians serve hundreds or thousands of these registered investment advisors and make big investments in technology and service on their clients' behalf.

This section features a series of articles under the “Asset Custody Project” label that cover these companies in a way that keeps advisors abreast of their progress – both with journalistic commentary and a common set of data so that advisors can easily compare them. The articles look at the strengths, weaknesses and niche capabilities of these companies.

— Brooke Southall

Here are links to the profiles of custodians:

  • Equity Advisor Solutions
  • Apex Clearing
  • Raymond James
  • State Street
  • Ceros Financial
  • Fidelity
  • Pershing
  • Royal Bank of Canada
  • Scottrade
  • Schwab
  • TD Ameritrade
  • Trade-PMR
  • Trust Company of America
  • BNY Mellon
  • Folio Institutional
  • Shareholders Service Group
  • National Advisors Trust
  • US Bank
  • If you want a more chronological look at news about the custodians, just scroll down.

    Joshua Pace: Until you have a big brand, it's hard to grab their attention.

    E*Trade gets Ric Edelman as an RIA custody client in 'expansive custody relationship,' but don't ask what that means

    The New York-based online broker will fuel Financial Engines with referrals and house the assets with Trust Company of America unit

    November 12, 2018 — 10:10 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: RIA custody has been as sleepy as technology has been hot for several years running now. But a new breed is rising of aggressive tech-forward RIA custodians, like Apex, DriveWealth, Folio and Trust Company of America. The truth is that these players ...

    Tricia Haskins: As they got bigger they used technology more for efficiency and scale [of their practices.] Now it's more about client experience.

    Fidelity Investments launches its API-forward 'open architecture digital store' as big RIAs demand help fine-tuning client service -- with Schwab likely on deck

    The Boston giant's push is more about RIA self-help than the third-party integrations TD Ameritrade makes hay with but now Schwab Advisor Services may be pushed to respond.

    October 17, 2018 — 3:24 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: With the possible exception of AssetMark's Mukesh Mehta who was the godfather of APIs at TD Ameritrade, perhaps nobody has pushed the open code concept ahead as much as Eric Clarke has at Orion Advisor Services. See: Eric Clarke rolls the API ...

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    Vince Pellegrini: [If] $1 trillion in assets and 3.4 million accounts on an innovative SaaS platform [is legacy] I'm good with that label.

    Oisin's Bits: DriveWealth is newest RIA custodian with VC money and an Apex mindset; Vestmark hits $1 trillion and promptly gives RIAs means to crank out push-button hedging across accounts

    $33 million in VC funds goes to up-start RIA robo custodian; no sooner does Vestmark hit $1 trillion than it pushes out software to help RIAs do omnibus hedging of positions

    October 1, 2018 — 9:53 PM UTC by Oisin Breen


    A new player has entered the RIA custody and clearing business; DriveWealth and its CEO Robert Cortright has a head-spinning track record of success in ventures that blend financial technology and the processing of money.

    Robert Cortright: Existing RIAs are recognizing that their customers ...

    Rob Farmer: The activity at the heart of this case was the result of Schwab having a robust compliance process designed to protect our customers.

    Schwab Advisor Services's 'very tight ship' sprung leak that may signal a flood of SEC actions against custodians, leading to potential crack down on RIAs

    The $1.6-trillion RIA custodian in San Francisco settles SEC lawsuit in a day by paying a $2.8 million fine in a case meant to be a 'shot across the bow' of custodians and RIAs, say analysts

    August 3, 2018 — 12:24 AM UTC by Oisin Breen

    Brooke's Note: One of the beauties of the RIA business is the simple trust that exists between advisors and regulators. The SEC gives RIAs lots of breathing room and RIAs repay the favor by running practices that minimize conflicts by excluding sales activity. The ...

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    Ben Harrison: This is a very conservative number. If we were to continue with hybrid the number would be considerably higher.

    The old trick of new math Pershing used to make its RIA assets in custody soar from $200 billion to $615 billion in one year

    Citing 'evolution,' the other Jersey City, N.J.-based custodian redefined 'RIA' to leapfrog itself over TD Ameritrade and into the rear view of Fidelity

    June 12, 2018 — 5:01 PM UTC by Lisa Shidler

    Brooke's Note: In an ideal RIA world, RIA custodians would answer to a board of standards that made sure these companies reported metrics in uniform fashion. That's not happening. So assets-in-custody inflation took place over the years and this $415-billion Pershing mark-up is a case of ...

    Lisa Dolly: Bigger is better.

    Pershing CEO Lisa Dolly flaunts size and software at INSITE 2018

    The new leadership continues to push RIAs to see the custodian as less niche but more nimble

    June 11, 2018 — 7:33 PM UTC by Guest Columnist Timothy D. Welsh

    Brooke's Note: The message from Pershing was always to judge the book not by its industrial cover but by the pages within. But as time passes and the quality of competitors rises, Pershing is necessarily taking on a more refined look. For RIAs, it ...

    Bernie Clark: Andrew and I have worked closely together on many projects over the past two decades at Schwab.

    Bernie Clark gets an A-level exec to help him futurize Schwab's RIA platform

    After Lightyear's Advisor Group nabbed Ed Obuchowski, Schwab went big in replacing him with Andrew Salesky

    June 6, 2018 — 3:21 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: As a Schwab-watcher dating back to 2000 when my InvestmentNews bureau office sat across the street from Chuck in San Francisco, I could only be struck by Andrew Salesky jumping over to RIA custody. Apparently, it was set off by the poach ...

    Cara Reisman: We want to meet as many needs as possible while still being easy to use.

    Betterment reboots its RIA business big-time with new chief, ACATS for ETFs and the ability to fold existing holdings into robo portfolios

    Cara Reisman absorbs duties of Tom Kimberley -- then gets to work making the New York robo-custodian more like classic RIA custodians

    March 29, 2018 — 12:06 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: This was a hard article to write because its topic was one small step for trading and a giant leap for RIAs and Betterment. Luckily I got Betterment's new RIA chief on the line to get the technical story but also ...

    Bill Van Law: I am looking forward to time with my family before pursuing the next chapter in my life and career.

    Bill Van Law's exit from Raymond James was preceded by 'administrative leave' and HR investigation, sources say

    The head of the RIA unit succeeded in growing RIA assets to $25 billion but never was accepted as 'RIA native' by RIAs or the industry

    March 23, 2018 — 11:54 PM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: It is always unsettling when an executive is gone without explanation. Often we never really find out the circumstances. In this case, Raymond James threw Bill Van Law, an A-level exec from its own ranks, into the RIA fray as a reset of ...

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    Mike Durbin: I've never seen us more strategically anxious.

    Mike Durbin says Fidelity Institutional has heightened 'strategic anxiety' softened by its best asset growth ever

    His $2.6-trillion unit's 2017 asset growth includes big adds from AssetMark, Sepio, Carson Group and Principal Securities

    March 23, 2018 — 3:19 AM UTC by Brooke Southall

    Brooke's Note: When Fidelity Investments published its annual report, it provided a rare public glimpse into a very private company. Sure, the company left out many key details but this time around it provided a bunch of great ones, too. The result was three articles. One by ...

    Not a dry eye after "Fearless Girl" spoke.

    TD Ameritrade brings tears and cheers to RIAs in Orlando

    A little girl blindsided attendees with heart and TD's Veo Village took on a life of its own

    February 5, 2018 — 6:13 AM UTC by Guest Columnist Timothy D. Welsh

    Brooke's Note: From afar I just can't help noticing three big things about TD Ameritrade. One is the way Veo and its open API has made it connect as closely to a wide swath of RIA vendors as it does to RIAs. Another thing ...

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    Tim Hockey: In the industry, retail has a higher return on client assets on a higher revenue base. But both businesses have a strong operating margin.

    Tim Hockey goes to Florida with an RIA 'problem' that's not RIAs

    The TD Ameritrade CEO relies on 6,000 registered investment advisors for 80% of growth -- skewed by big, big 'bus drivers' like Ric Edelman and Ron Carson

    February 1, 2018 — 11:17 PM UTC by Oisin Breen

    Brooke's Note: Virtually every RIA custodian is a B2B company behind the scenes and a retail firm for all the world to see (even Pershing Advisor Solutions is pretty closely tied to a big bank.) But TD Ameritrade finds itself in the more unusual position of depending ...

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    Bernie Clark: We are at an inflection point where new technology craves data, a scenario where incumbents have the advantage.

    Bernie Clark uses Schwab IMPACT 2017 as pulpit to preach Schwab scale as firewall to blaze of dystopian big-data future

    With no RIA deliverable to pitch, Charles Schwab & Co. execs presented their go-big, 'no goals' vision for managing accelerating external change

    November 17, 2017 — 10:45 PM UTC by Guest Columnist Timothy D. Welsh

    Brooke's Note: Tim Welsh artfully draws a picture of what happened to 4,000 people in Chicago over a three-day stretch by reducing it to a few broad strokes. Schwab IMPACT 2017 hammered home the point that Charles Schwab & Co. is very, very ...

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    Lowell Putnam: It ensures everything on both sides of the transaction is 'fit for purpose,' meaning it's just down to the National Securities Clearing Corp.-DTCC to do the necessary work..

    Quovo is developing an ACATS rooter process with Apex Clearing as first to sign on

    The Silicon Alley startup is using its data science as a way of attacking a clog considered not susceptible to intervention

    November 14, 2017 — 11:09 PM UTC by Oisin Breen

    Brooke's Note: When you are a tiny startup competing in a field of giants, you have two choices. You can go low with a microniche or go high and provide a product above and beyond what the giants do because they are stymied by innovator's ...

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    David LaValle: ​There are so many factors. Some of them we can be very perceptive about and others are more difficult to estimate.

    TD Ameritrade calms the RIA Twitter storm but not questions about the spreads on the ETFs replacing the super-liquid Vanguard and Core iShares

    The additional 60-day extension lets advisors breathe but even Wall Street analysts wonder just how far TD Ameritrade should go in inflaming 'consternation' of 'golden goose' RIAs

    October 27, 2017 — 12:45 AM UTC by Lisa Shidler

    Brooke's Note: I decided for certain RIABiz needed to follow up on the story related to a power struggle between TD Ameritrade and some RIAs with regard to an abrupt change in the ETFs it makes available commission-free. The way TD approached communications around ...