Opening the Broker Departure Floodgates
Even though the equity markets have rebounded massively, investors remain in a sour mood in light of sluggish domestic economic headlines. Technology, for example High Frequency Trading (HFT – read more), along with the harsh realities of financial regulatory reform is creating profit growth challenges for the global financial gargantuans. More specifically, the floodgates have sprung open with respect to broker departures from the big four brokerage firms.
According to Bloomberg, more than 7,300 brokers have left the four largest full-service brokerage firms (Merrill Lynch [BAC], Morgan Stanley Smith Barney [MS], UBS Wealth Management [UBS], and Wells Fargo Advisors [WFC]) since the beginning of 2009. But the brokers have not floated away quietly – more than $1 trillion in assets have fled these major brokerage firms and followed the brokers to their new employers.
Several factors have led to the deluge of departures of bodies and bucks:
1) Mergers: The financial crisis triggered an all-out economic assault on the brokerage firm industry. A subsequent game of musical chairs resulted in the marriage of disparate cultures (e.g., B of A-Merrill; Morgan Stanley-Smith Barney; Wells Fargo-Wachovia). Not only did the clashing cultures rub brokers the wrong way, but the surviving executives were left with redundant and unproductive brokers to cut.
2) Heightened Recruiting: With a shrinking pie and less growth comes more fierce competition. The discount brokerage firms have realized the Darwinian challenges and reacted to them accordingly. Take TD Ameritrade (AMTD) for example. In the first seven months of 2010, the discount brokerage firm added 212 independent advisers to its network, a +44% increase over the previous year. Charles Schwab Corp. (SCHW) with its network of 6,000 independent advisers is also ratcheting up its efforts to poach brokers away from the large brokerage firms.
3) Economics: Would you like 40-50% of profits generated from new clients, or 80-100%? In many instances, the broker from the large branded institution funnels the majority of the commissions to the mother-ship. Sure, the broker receives back-office, marketing, and branding support, but some brokers are now asking themselves is the brand an asset or liability? Wall Street has gotten a large black eye and it will take time to heal their corporate images…if they ever manage to succeed at all.
4) Customer Choice: Lastly, and most importantly, customers are voting with their dollars. As I have indicated in the past, I strongly believe the current system is structurally flawed (see Financial Sharks article). Financial institutions craft incentives designed to line the pockets of brokers (salespeople) and prioritize corporate profits over client wealth creation and preservation. The existing failed industry structure is based upon smoke, mirrors, opacity, and small print. Many independent, fee-only advisors are structuring financial relationships that align with portfolio performance and make transparency a top priority. Customers appreciate these benefits and are shifting dollars away from the brokerage firms.
LPL Loving IPO Life
If you are having a difficult time processing the magnitude of this investment advice shift, then consider the $4.4 billion estimated value being placed on the planned IPO (Initial Public Offering) of LPL Financial, the independent brokerage firm of 12,000+ financial advisors. LPL serves as a conduit for legacy brokers to become independent, and still allow them to benefit from an array of ala carte support services. Growth has been strong too – over the last decade the advisor count at LPL has more than tripled and assets under their umbrella now exceed $250 billion.
The Wall Street broker floodgates have opened, so unless regulatory changes are enacted, the old flawed way of doing things will require a life support raft. If not, independent, fee-only advisors like Sidoxia Capital Management will benefit from the current sinking migration of brokers.
Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®
Plan. Invest. Prosper.
DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in BAC, MS, UBS, WFC, AMTD, SCHW, LPL Financial or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.