A large number of money managers still haven’t figured out how to tap the registered investment advisor (RIA) market to sell their funds, according to research published Monday by Kasina, a mutual fund consulting firm in New York.

Though RIAs currently make up just 4.5 percent of the advisor community, they control more than $1 trillion in assets, and analysts expect that number to double over the next five years. This represents an enormous opportunity for asset management firms. But the RIA market remains largely ignored by a large swath of asset managers, Kasina notes in its most recent white paper “Independent Thinking: Winning in the RIA Market.”

According to a survey of nine large investment management firms with more than $800 billion in assets, 70 percent of the firms polled are still unclear as to how to best market and sell in that channel. “Firms have historically struggled to capture RIA assets,” says Lauren Lisher, a consultant with Kasina. The biggest problem, she says, is that too many money managers are treating RIA advisors like wirehouse reps, when, in fact, they’re very different.

Advisors at RIAs are different than reps at wirehouse and regional broker-dealers because the former have equity in the company and the responsibility of not only serving their clients but also running a small business and paying for overhead. Advisors at the larger RIAs may also be more sophisticated about selecting investment products – something they’re not shy about telling you -- than wirehouse reps. That makes sense since the average RIA has 17 years in the advice business, Kasina says.

A big problem for most money managers looking to attract more RIAs is that RIAs are generally small and geographically dispersed. While most asset management firms acknowledge the opportunity, few have been able to capitalize on that opportunity. They don’t know what RIAs want or will respond to when it comes to marketing. Without adequate resources and a commitment from management, money managers will continue to struggle, Lisher says. “Throwing four wholesalers at a group of 5,000 advisors -- you’re not really setting yourself up for success,” she says.

Kasina also polled 200 RIAs about their experiences with money manager marketing efforts and their expectations. Only one in four RIAs surveyed said that wholesalers have any influence over the way they invest client assets. Another 75 percent said they view direct mail as “ineffective.” A majority of them see more value in RIA-specific conferences, firms with a strong Web presence and literature tailored to their business model.

Asset management firms are beginning to change their tactics. More than two-thirds of the money managers in the study said they have relaunched or restructured their RIA wholesaling model within the last two years, according to the white paper. “With RIA assets under management now averaging $124 million – according to Rydex Advisor Benchmarking – many of these groups have the kind of scale that makes a dedicated marketing effort more attractive,” Lisher says.

The white paper suggests that one step in crafting an RIA marketing effort is to publish RIA-specific marketing materials, and to create an RIA-specialist role to support wholesalers. “It takes a little longer to make that sale, but the assets tend to be stickier,” Lisher says of the RIA market.