Brokers are in motion. Always have been, always will be. Granted, the pace has slowed since the frenetic days of the '08-'09 financial implosion that tarnished the images of Wall Street brokerage firms and sparked a game of musical chairs as thousands of traditional wirehouse brokers switched employers. But after a lull last year, recruiters say more brokers are kicking tires again and exploring their options.
"People are getting their mojo back and are saying, 'If I'm going to move, might as well do it now,' " says Carri Degenhardt-Burke, president of Degenhardt Consulting, a recruiting firm in Jersey City, N.J.
Specifically addressing the wirehouse channel, she cites several reasons why the mojo is back. For starters, brokers who initially took a wait-and-see approach during the turmoil two or three years ago now have a better sense of the landscape and what direction they might want to go. In addition, brokers are meeting markers in the retention packages they got during the 2008-2009 period, and the amount of money they owe on their loans is dwindling to the point where it's feasible for some advisors to think about changing employers. And some people are simply dissatisfied with management at their firms.
Specifically, Degenhardt-Burke cites Merrill Lynch and the prospect for tough times ahead for the "thundering herd" after a recent spate of bad news at parent company Bank of America. That includes the late-summer ouster of Sallie Krawcheck as chief of the bank's high-profile Merrill Lynch wealth management business. BofA "brought in a lot of bankers, and a lot of Merrill people are frustrated because they want someone familiar with the brokerage business on their side, not a banker," Degenhardt-Burke says. "Those are two opposite cultures to deal with."
Mindy Diamond, president and CEO of Diamond Consultants in Chester, N.J., says the recruiting business was much slower in 2010 and early 2011, but things picked up so much this summer that she canceled a September vacation to Paris to keep up with the flow. Part of the uptick comes from the bad publicity surrounding some of the Wall Street brokerages during the recent economic tumult. "That makes advisors rethink the notion of being a captive employee," Diamond says.
As a result, she says brokers are looking at all their options. "People are taking a Chinese menu approach--one from Column A and one from Column B. They're weighing the long-term benefits of independence versus the short-term remuneration of a major windfall they can get by going to another wirehouse."
Best Of Both Worlds
Many wirehouse brokers like the comfort of a big corporation and don't want to go independent. That means there's still a lot of intra-channel movement among the traditional brokerages.
Wirehouse firms have been paying 330% transition packages for top advisors during the past few years, or three and a third times an advisor's trailing-12-month production. Diamond says that multi-million-dollar showcase teams are now getting a little more than that. "What's happening is that with compression in the [wirehouse] industry and some attrition among the firms, they're aggressively recruiting showcase teams," she says.
That said, one of the big trends in recent years has been the growing number of breakaway brokers leaving the wirehouse channel in favor of independence. Increasingly, some of the best wirehouse advisors are riding that wave.
"We're seeing higher-quality, larger advisor teams doing their due diligence to see if it makes sense [to go independent]," says John Peluso, president and senior managing director at Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, or FiNet, the independent contractor business of Wells Fargo (which is distinct from the company's bank and wirehouse advisor channels). "My sense is those who've gone before them have proven independence is a valid option and are spreading the word."