(Dow Jones) H.D. Vest Financial Services continues to add hundreds of new financial advisors each year and sees plenty of room for more growth as a business linked to that of tax and accounting specialists, thanks to retiring baby boomers.
The Irving, Texas, independent broker-dealer, a subsidiary of Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), has its eye on the 77 million baby boomers to retire over the next 18 years, said President Roger Ochs. Many of them may have been "do-it-yourselfers" as they saved for retirement, but are seeking advice as they prepare to start spending their savings, he said.
H.D. Vest, founded in 1983 and acquired by Wells Fargo in 2001, has carved out a niche helping tax and accounting specialists integrate financial services into their practices. A lot of firms dabble in that business, but only a handful do it fairly heavily and H.D. Vest dwarfs competitors such as 1st Global, said Bing Waldert, a director at consultancy Cerulli Associates.
With 5,200 advisors managing more than $26 billion in assets for individuals, families and small businesses, H.D. Vest is one of the five largest independent broker-dealers, Waldert said. "Comparing them to the rest of the independent broker-dealer channel is sort of like apples to oranges."
Philip Palaveev, president of the Fusion Advisor Network, which provides research to independent financial advisors, said that about 10 years ago, some of the bigger brokerages tried helping certified public accountants and enrolled agents become advisors but weren't able to make the model work. "H.D. Vest has proved that if you focus on your strategy and really try to understand the unique needs of your clients, you're going to be successful where others fail."
H.D. Vest is adding between 400 and 500 advisors a year and, with attrition, it adds a net "couple of hundred" advisors annually, Ochs said.
The company also sees an opportunity in small business owners, he said. About 30% of H.D. Vest's business is with them, and "they're starting to dig out of these really tough economic times," he said.
With clients feeling battered by the recent market downturn and recession, advisors are challenged to clearly explain financial risks and opportunities to clients, Ochs said. "I think there's still a lot of fear," he said. "You're seeing that with the large amount of assets sitting in cash today."
Keeping assets in cash won't protect clients from inflation, he noted. "We have to make sure clients understand the totality of the risk they take; even if they stuff their money in the mattress, there's a risk with that."
Ochs said a proposal in Congress to extend the fiduciary standard, which requires an advisor to always act in clients' best interests, won't have a major impact on his company because most of its offices already are registered investment advisors, which have to meet that standard.