(Dow Jones) Most independent broker-dealers can't match their Wall Street rivals when it comes to capabilities for planning retirement income. But some are ramping up on that front as recession-battered baby boomers turn to them for help.

Boomers control about 40% of all private assets in the U.S. and have long set the agenda for the retail investment industry. Among other things, they fueled the mutual-fund explosion and the rise of the 401(k).

Now, as they begin moving into retirement age, they are forcing the industry to shift priorities from helping people accumulate assets to helping them stretch what they've got through decades of post-retirement uncertainty about inflation, market returns and personal circumstances.

Cetera Financial Group, for example, is focused on equipping its 5,000 or so brokers to help "mass" affluent investors prepare for comfortable retirements. That includes reporting and planning software that helps advisors see household holdings across accounts and custodians, as well as retirement-income investment products and tactics like bond laddering and annuities.

Based in El Segundo, Calif., Cetera was formed early this year out of three U.S. broker-dealers previously belonging to ING Groep (ING). Though young, its system is already helping advisors at Financial Resource Advisers, a Waterloo, Iowa-based independent group that uses Cetera's MultiFinancial subsidiary for its brokerage services. According to Financial Resource Advisers's president, Jay Bullerman, they now "pay a lot less attention to the solicitations we get from other firms."

Barnaby Grist, Cetera's wealth-management chief, says the financial crisis got both clients and advisors more focused on retirement income. This wasn't the main focus for most advisors "before the last 12 or 24 months," he says.

David Macchia, who runs a retirement-focused digital marketing company, also has seen this change. He founded Wealth2K early last decade, and encountered little acceptance when he first visited broker-dealers' head offices to talk about clients' retirement-income needs. It was "like finding yourself in a strange country with a strange language and unfamiliar customs," he says.

Now, Macchia believes, independents that recognize and act on the need to develop retirement capabilities for their advisors are likeliest to keep capturing assets from clients now wary of Wall Street firms. He puts Cetera, Ameriprise's (AMP) Securities America subsidiary, LPL Financial and Invest Financial on this list.

But "most [independent broker-dealers] struggle with compressed budgets and limited resources," and so aren't even in the running for retirement-income business, he adds.

And Wall Street itself isn't waiting. Merrill Lynch, a unit of Bank of America (BAC), has been particularly vocal about its commitment to providing post-retirement resources to its brokers.

In 2009, Merrill published a white paper outlining a three-step approach to retirement-income planning and investing that puts assets in different buckets to meet evolving income requirements. This is comprised of an initial assessment of holdings and needs, portfolio construction, and ongoing monitoring and rebalancing.

Early this year the company launched an advertising campaign to showcase its ability to help people meet their particular retirement needs. It says the effort helped it recruit new advisors.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, the retail-brokerage joint venture of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Citigroup (C), has also made retirement-income a priority, Macchia notes. But all of these big, full-service firms are fighting a long-term trend--accelerated the bailouts, scandals and shotgun mergers that accompanied the financial crisis--of clients turning to independent advisors.

In 2008 and 2009 the U.S. stock market lost about 18% of its value--an outcome reflected by a 17.5% decline in client assets at the big self-clearing brokerages, according to the consulting firm Aite Group. Independent broker-dealers meanwhile held their own, avoiding losses in those two years.

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