Fee-based compensation models and financial planning services have been defining characteristics of registered investment advisers, but wirehouses and broker-dealers increasingly are following suit, according to Cogent Research. "It's a huge challenge to figure out how to grow your firm from here," said Michael Kitces of Pinnacle Advisory Group. "When you're competing against someone who may or may not be a fiduciary but uses the same business model, it's indistinguishable."

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