UK financial advisers have served steadily increasing numbers of ongoing clients in recent years, with each adviser now having an average of 115 ongoing clients – up from only 86 in 2016, according to FCA data.

Some of this growth is because advisers have been focusing more on giving ongoing advice rather than one-off services. But much can be explained by advisers’ increased efficiency or productivity – from outsourcing some tasks to making better use of their administrators and paraplanners.

But how much higher can this average go?

Newly qualified advisers are more likely to have spare capacity and are generally more willing to take on new, less wealthy clients. In contrast, advisers with more mature banks of clients generally prefer to spend time on winning richer clients rather than adding to client numbers.

We see parallels between the number of clients per adviser and ‘Dunbar’s number’ – the hypothetical number of relationships that people can realistically maintain, posited to be 150. Once an adviser gets close to this number of clients, it becomes harder to maintain strong enough personal connections with them. They become customers rather than clients.

So, the challenge of increasing client numbers may turn out to be more fundamental than just improving adviser productivity. Advisers would not just have to adopt more streamlined advice processes. They would also need to relinquish some of their personal relationships with clients. This is anathema for many.

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