After three decades in the brokerage business, the floor fell out from underneath Glenn Fischer.

The final 18 years of his career were spent as the branch office manager for Smith Barney in Garden City, N.Y., an office that consistently ranked in the top quintile. In January of 2009, after Smith Barney’s intended merger with Morgan Stanley was announced Fischer was asked to step down. He was moved back into production. Within a few months a former Morgan Stanley BoM replaced him and his office was swallowed up by a larger group run by his former regional director. It was time to leave.

“B/Ds are having a tough time being profitable these days,” explains Rick Peterson, who heads Rick Peterson & Associates, an industry recruiting firm in Spring, TX. “The whole industry is being re-priced, firms keep consolidating, and compensation and jobs continue to be slashed.” Unhappy or displaced branch managers have little chance of finding comparable jobs, he says. “The number of wirehouses is shrinking, and branch managers are losing jobs on a weekly basis.”

Often branch office managers are given the option of ‘going back into production’, but most agree it’s not a good time to try and re-build a book of business. “Since most of us were forced to give up our books ages ago, we’d either have to join an existing team or try and pick up our former clients to in order survive,” says a wirehouse branch manager in Connecticut, who asked to remain anonymous.

Where does a former branch office manager go? Fischer never doubted his management capabilities, or the notion that management was where he truly belonged. So, in September 2009, he became the CEO of Garden City-based New York Wealth Management Group, an independent firm affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services. He made the move with business partner Joe Scotto, an FA whom he’d managed for many years. They started with just a couple of advisors. Now the firm has 15 who oversee nearly $1 Billion inassets with a seven person support staff.

Fischer also holds the role of the firm’s non-producing branch manager.  He’s back to coaching, training and recruiting, the things he’s always loved best. “Most people view independent branches as one-or two-advisor operations. When you come into ours, it feels like you’re at any wirehouse,” he says.

And, though he knows independence isn’t for everyone, he feels his background has been a great asset in recruiting wirehouse reps. “We’re from the same world, so I really know what they want and what they don’t. There’s virtually none of the politics and red tape of a wirehouse.”

While Fischer and Scotto put up 100% of the start-up costs, they’re only keeping a 65% ownership stake and plan to give a piece of the business to advisors, based on their production. It was a risky time to start a business, but so far, so good. “My only regret is not having done this sooner.”

In 2006, after spending five years as a BoM for Smith Barney’s Red Bank, N.J, branch overseeing 40 advisors, Ron Sallet was ready for a change. An accident required him to take several months of medical leave.  

He was already feeling that his job was beginning to chafe, focusing more on home office initiatives rather than on the coaching, mentoring and helping my advisors. During that time he came up with a plan that he felt could help advisors on a national level. When he returned, he took a position running a joint effort between Smith Barney and Citi to serve the mass affluent market, but the program was dismantled within a year. 

“For the first time, I took an external recruiting call,” he said. “That exposed me to the independent space.” In 2008, he became Managing Director of Wells Fargo’s Advisors Financial Network’s Branch Development Group in St. Louis.

Aside from recruiting, he helps new advisors develop business models.  “I’m very passionate about illuminating advisors’ options and helping them make active decisions about how they’d like to spend the second half of their careers,” he says.

By 2005, “John”—a successful non-producing wirehouse BoM who asked us to withhold  both his name and that of his former and current firm—had grown weary of the position he was so honored to have been offered five years earlier.  Despite growing his branch office in the northeast by 25% and getting ample six-figure compensation, he wasn’t happy.

He turned down recruiters’ offers to manage other wirehouse branches, viewing them as merely more of the same. A head-hunter caught his interest with a position as a ‘banking investment program director’ at a mid-sized regional bank—the banking channel’s equivalent of a B/D BoM.  He made the move and says he never looked back.

“There’s no temptation to ‘look the other way’ if a big producer is doing something you’re not happy about. The whole management culture seems a lot more professional. At the wirehouse, I never felt entirely secure about my job.  The culture there was pretty fear-based.”

He took a slight pay cut at first, but without reservation.  “If you manage a large wirehouse branch—with 75 or 100 brokers—you cannot replicate the pay elsewhere,” he says.  “But, for managers of midsize branches like I was, there’s a lot more earning potential.”  John says he’s back to a “healthy six-figure” income.

“People running investment programs at large regional or national make several hundred thousand dollars per year or more,” says Paul Werlin, president of Human Capital Resources, an industry recruiting and consulting firm which specializes in bank investment programs. Those managing 10-25 FA’s typically make in the $250,000 range, he says. At smaller programs with only two or three FA’s, they may only make $150,000. “The products offered are far more diverse and sophisticated than 10 or 20 years ago, so there’s much more money to be made.  And, if a manager also produces, it also adds to compensation.”

“Bank managers are compensated on more than just accumulating assets,” Werlin explains. “Things like inter-departmental referrals, low client complaint rates, etc. all factor in.  So, plenty of emphasis is still put on training and coaching new recruits.”

 “Managing bank-based advisors can be a very nice job,” said another wirehouse BoM who also requested anonymity.  “And, though we once looked down on bank FAs for ‘ostensibly’ not having to prospect as hard as we do, we’re now happily recruiting them. This whole industry is shrinking.  We’re all in trouble, and we’re all having to work very, very hard.”