Aite Group estimates that about 7,000 brokers left the wirehouses last year. The space now includes roughly 55,000 advisors.

"They are leaving the wirehouses because they didn't get a retention package, they want a high payout, or they don't want to work for a damaged brand," Pirker said.

But the retention packages have worked to an extent, in that the firms didn't lose that many of their best producers.

The retention money "buys the wirehouses time, but it doesn't buy them loyalty," Pirker said. "As the brokers reach the end of those contracts, or come close to reaching it, the appetite for breaking away will start growing."

Of the wirehouse brokers, 20% said they are more likely than not to break away from their brokerage within 18 to 24 months, representing 11,000 brokers, according to Aite Group's report.

But even if the wirehouses lose a few thousand brokers, they still stand to gain all those who would choose moving to another wirehouse over leaving that channel.


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