On Monday, RIABiz ran a list of the top 20 RIABiz articles in 2010. People enjoyed knowing what our readers were most interested in from a group of about 600 articles for the year. The next question for me was what our next 20 articles (21-40) would reveal about the business of registered investment advisors.

One article that appeared high up on this second tranche of headlines, “What to make of Mark Hurley’s latest prophesy that most RIA firms will go out with a whimper,” didn’t fit any of the neat categories I was assigning to the stories.

But I believe it may best capture the broader theme that seems to be running through all of these articles. It covers a report Hurley wrote about whether or not an RIA practice has value as an organization. By concluding that a tiny handful of firms achieve 'enterprise value’, he touches a nerve. The RIA business is one that is rapidly seeking ways to achieve enterprise value both for practitioners — and increasingly — investors.

Mass production of value

Four of these top articles related to major happenings in technology — an area where tremendous value can still be added to an industry trying to shed its mom-and-pop cocoon. Another four articles related directly to breakaway advisors and the roll-ups that are helping to mass-produce the value-adding process of molding a broker into a private wealth manager.

Another four articles relate to the opportunity for RIAs to demolish the competition in the 401(k) business — a veritable green pasture of self-renewing assets. This is a complicated subject that has invited controversy at RIABiz. What can not be argued is that RIAs smell blood as the DOL raises standards to places where brokers could have a difficult time following.

Another way that RIAs seek value is by choosing partners that take work off their plates and service their clients with big-company competency. There are two articles here that bring to light the success of little-known asset custodians, Trust Company of America and BNY Mellon, that fit that category. Articles with DFA, SEI Investments, Genworth Financial Wealth Management and Envestnet in the headlines also fit this broad category of partner firms.

A way that advisors seek to upgrade their own value in terms of knowledge and connections is to attend conferences. Timothy Welsh and Sondra Harris combined forces to write 2011’s most well-read conference summary with their detailed and authoritative account of what they saw at Schwab IMPACT 2010.

Exclusive conferences, Next Big Thing

Close behind were two articles I wrote about smaller, more exclusive conferences produced by Schwab and Fidelity for some of their more elite RIAs. Thanks to Alison Wertheim of Schwab and Steve Austin of Fidelity for their help in giving me a window into these events.

The list also yielded an oddball success. RIABiz sees itself foremost as a publication covering the business of the business of advice provided with fiduciary care. We run some investment- and market-related articles because they have a bearing on the RIA business. One such article that did well: A style for all markets: momentum investing.

It also produced an articles about Dynasty Financial Partners and Hightower Advisors. People ask me frequently what I think will be the Next Big Thing in the RIA world. I don’t know for sure. But I am certain that both these companies have lured A-level talent from Wall Street and have formed intelligent ventures around these people. They should at least be on people’s watch lists.

1.A Harvard lawyer, a Columbia MBA and an engineer break away from AllianceBernstein private client unit to form an RIA

*2.*Why the DOL’s proposed 401(k) rules could ding brokers and leave the spoils to RIAs

3.What to make of Mark Hurley’s latest prophesy that most RIA firms will go out with a whimper

4.Giant DFA customer puts young CEO in charge to execute ambitious national plan

5.TD Ameritrade’s technology, Veo, wins high praise from advisors so RIABiz took a look

6.Fidelity brings its 401(k) muscle to RIAs with new product

7.Trust Company of America is modifying its approach despite lights-out growth

8.Eavesdropping on IMPACT: Takeaways from Bernie Clark’s first IMPACT appearance as leader; Hank Paulson explains #1 reason Lehman failed; the secrets of creating buzz

9.Advent Software is squandering its market leadership by keeping focus on Axys, according to a hedge fund analyst’s report

10.Advent Software is moving ahead in the RIA tech market— even if most Axys users refuse to budge
HighTower wins big UBS team and clinches 'critical mass’

11.A style for all markets: momentum investing

12.Schwab PortfolioCenter may be poised to shed its utilitarian image

13.HighTower veteran helps Morgan Stanley Smith Barney team break away upstate New York style

14.Genworth, SEI and Envestnet make alternative investments moves amid 'huge interest’

15.Fidelity reorganizes its RIA business

16.TD Ameritrade and Pershing are making moves to win RIA 401(k) assets

17.What happened at Fidelity’s RIA conference this year

18.What exactly is Dynasty Financial Partners and why is the Smith Barney execs’ startup gaining so much attention?

19.BNY Mellon’s new RIA custody unit will collaborate [and compete] with Pershing Advisor Solutions

20.As Schwab poises for massive invasion of Boston, Fidelity lays in wait