The wave of advisors jumping onboard with independent broker-dealers peaked in 2009. There could be another massive exodus from the wirehouses in the future, but for the moment, the migration has slowed.
Yet there is still pent-up wanderlust, say recruiters. "In an informal survey we took, 72% of the advisors we talked with expressed an interest in joining or changing their broker-dealer," says Howard Diamond, managing director of Diamond Consultants, a major recruiting firm in Chester, N.J. "There has been a dramatic increase in the number of advisors in the independent space and I think you will continue to see that. The numbers that want to at least investigate the options are up tremendously."
But recruiters at broker-dealers acknowledge the movement has slowed down. Partly that's because there are too many uncertainties in the world.
And some of those who are moving are being forced to. Smaller independent broker-dealers have had to close shop in the face of financial pressure. A handful of big players are closing their independent broker-dealer divisions. And of course, the major wirehouses continue to push those representatives who earn less out the door.
Steve Dowden, president of Invest Financial Corporation, a subsidiary of National Planning Holdings and part of its independent broker-dealer network, says that the same number of advisors in play are approaching his firm as there were in 2009-if only to talk. "The interest is high, but advisors are being cautious," he says. "They are doing their due diligence [checking independent broker-dealers out] right now, but they are not satisfied with where they are."
Advisors seeking a change of pace are holding back for several reasons, Dowden says. One is that regulatory reform and fiduciary changes are coming. The other is that the United States is facing an election and an uncertain geopolitical situation in Europe. "People hate the unknown," he says. "There will be more deals in 2013 when these issues are sorted out. Advisors are playing a wait-and-see game now, just like consumers."
Plus, change is not easy. "Today there are more frustrated advisors who want to make a change than there were 10 years ago, but moving is daunting," says Andrew Daniels, managing principal of field development at Commonwealth Financial, one of the B-Ds that has been successful at recruiting. "Transition is hard work, but with an experienced partner in the independent broker-dealer's role, it is totally doable."
Under most circumstances, advisors can keep their own RIA offices open after joining forces with a broker-dealer (or else use the broker-dealer as their RIA). The advisors can also retain their own brand name and offices. How independent they can be depends on the broker-dealer.
The scramble for advisors has become so intense among the independent companies that many of them are offering perks and bonuses to make the leap less painful. There is pressure for them to offer previously unheard of amounts of money to turn heads.
"Since the bottom in 2008, the stock market has nearly doubled, so B-Ds are flush and competition for reps is high," says Eric Schwartz, CEO of Cambridge Investment Research in Fairfield, Iowa, another broker-dealer that has enjoyed successful recruiting efforts. "The old days of offering 2% of trailing-12-months revenue to get a firm to join a broker-dealer are over."
Cambridge is offering, on average, 10%, he says, though the offers range widely around that average. Meanwhile, he's seen other broker-dealers make offers of 30% or higher.
Most B-Ds look for advisor buisnesses of a particular size that will fit with their existing models. Some take firms that operate only on fees, while others admit firms charging both fees and commissions. It is important to recognize that the broker-dealer can offer a lot more than money. It can also make services available to help reps with their business.
"It is a much more complicated process now. It used to be much simpler," Schwartz says, adding that his company has lured advisors away from competitors promising more money by advertising Cambridge's reputation and services. The company not only offers back-office support and technology, but can also help advisors come up with their succession plans and help structure and finance their acquisitions.
"We'll even answer the phones for them and host their Web site, if they want," he adds.
For such services, advisories pay some of their revenues to the broker-dealer. For Securities America Inc., the fee ranges from 5% to 8% of revenues. For that, the advisor gets business processing, compliance support, a transition team, technology, practice management programs, a comprehensive retirement income distribution platform and other services.