Here are 22 pointers from recruiters, indie firm execs and brokers on how to research an independent broker/dealer.
1) Make a list and check it twice. "Make a checklist of the issues that are important to you," says Mitch Vigeveno, a recruiter who runs Turning Point in Clearwater, Fla. "Seek out a firm that is a good cultural fit for the business you have or want to build."
2) Research payout. "A lot of times reps are misled by payouts advertised," Vigeveno says. Give potential broker/dealers "a month or two of your trade blotter and have them do a pro forma calculation on it to see how much you would be paid." Administrative fees, errors and omissions insurance costs and overhead must be deducted.
3) Talk to wholesalers. "Tell them confidentially that you're thinking about changing firms," says Joby Gruber, president and CEO of Financial Service Corp. in Atlanta. "Ask them, of all the independent contractor firms, which three do the best job and why?"
4) Analyze the firm's financial position. "Determine if the firm is financially strong and solvent," says recruiter Larry Papike with Cross Search in San Diego.
5) Check out the independent firm's parent company. "If the parent company has a poor reputation, it filters down to the independent firm," says Tom Sboto, executive vice president of Round Hill Securities in Alamo, Calif.
6) Make sure the firm doesn't have major regulatory problems. Request the results of the NASD's annual exam of the broker/dealer, Papike suggests. "When the NASD leaves, they give the b/d a deficiency letter [revealing major problems]," he says. "The b/d should be willing to give it to you. If it's unwilling, don't go there."
Also check the firm's CRD (Central Registration Depository) record at www.nasdr.com. Don't forget the form ADV, too, recommends Hy Cohen, president of Royal Alliance Associates in New York. "It lists players, backgrounds and any bad stuff over the past few years."
7) Call brokers. Find and talk to reps affiliated with the broker/ dealer who have a similar product mix to yours, Papike says.
8) Talk to an indie dropout. "Ask for the name of someone who tried it and didn't like it," says Larry Roth, president and CEO of ING U.S. retail group in Atlanta. "We try to introduce [potential reps] to someone who didn't like it."
9) Focus on technology. "Ask where the firm is now and where it plans on going," Gruber says. In particular, find out if clients can access their accounts on the Internet, says Scot Shier, a broker with Associated Securities Corp. in Los Angeles. Check out the firm's Web site and ask if individual Web sites are available to brokers, Shier adds.
10) Research performance reporting. "See what type of reports and technology is available to you, and what the costs are," advises Roger Stromberg, a broker with JWGenesis Financial Services in Missoula, Mont. One of his requirements was Advent portfolio management software.
11) Look at the firm's statements. "Do they have a consolidated statement?" Shier says. "This is a huge benefit."
12) Investigate the firm's clearing arrangement. "Make sure the firm has a strong clearing relationship," Sboto says.
13) Research the back office. "When you call, do you get someone live?" Shier asks. It's also important to gauge employee longevity in their positions, suggests Dick Miller, president of Walnut Street Securities in St. Louis.
14) Find out about compliance. "Reps should ask, 'What's your supervisory procedure? How can I be assured it will work right?'" Cohen asks. Also, ask other brokers about compliance turnaround time on marketing materials.
15) Determine how your transition will be handled. "The company should have a good, strong transition department--people who have responsibility for bringing business over," Vigeveno says. "Make sure somebody in the home office is assigned to make it happen for you."
16) Analyze the firm's investment programs, including the costs and options in wrap programs, for example, Shier says.
17) Research the other products offered. "Look at mutual fund companies and the outside money managers that are available from the broker/dealer," says rep David Carey of Raymond James Financial Services in Peru, Ill.
18) Inquire about the firm's relationships with trust companies, insurance firms and estate planning service providers, Stromberg says.
19) Check into proprietary products. Make sure you won't be pressured to sell the parent company's proprietary products, Cohen says. "Get it in writing if you have to."
20) Take a trip to the home office and bring the assistant who helps run your business, Papike says. Meet staff members in all of the departments with which you will interact.
21) Look ahead. "Don't make a decision based on what they have today," says Chet Helck, executive vice president of Raymond James Financial Services in Atlanta. "Understand their philosophy, objectives and drivers--where they're taking the firm and what resources they have to get there."
22) Finally, go with your gut, Cohen says. "When you have done the due diligence, gone through the checklist and met with the people, ask yourself if you want to do business with these people," he says. "It's gut instinct. If it doesn't feel right, walk away."