Clouds Are Lifting, Optimism Growing For Advisors

The cloud that for so long has spread doom and gloom on Wall Street appears to be lifting, with more advisors expressing confidence about their job security.

According to research conducted by Registered Rep. Magazine and TD Ameritrade Institutional, 54 percent of respondents indicated there is some chance they will not be with their current firm two years from now. While still quite high, the figure is down from 70 percent in June and 63 percent in December 2008.

Further indication that the industry is beginning to settle can be found in the percentage of respondents’ firms that have undergone a change in the past year, from mergers and acquisitions to capital infusions from the government. The June 2009 data found that 30 percent of respondents’ firms had undergone one of these changes, compared to 44 percent in March 2009 and 39 percent in December 2008.

To be sure, there are still a lot of reps looking for work due to industry consolidation.

Rosanne Roberts, principal of R.M. Roberts and Associates LLC, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based recruiting firm that focuses on banks and credit unions, has been getting lots of calls from reps who have been laid off due to bank mergers or are unhappy with new compensation programs instituted by a successor bank. “That crowd is still generally looking for a place or trying to decide if they’re going to go independent or leave the industry,” she said.

Nonetheless, industry movement is way down from earlier in the year. Indeed, the number of reps who moved in June is about half of the number who moved in January, according to the “The Rep Movement Report,” a monthly compilation of industry moves and other data from "Discovery – The Financial Information Group Inc."

“If the markets stay stable, we’ll continue to see reps move, but I think the big spikes we saw at the beginning of the year are subsiding,” said Bill McGovern, chief executive of BD-SEARCH, a recruiting firm in St. Petersburg, Fla.

In some cases, the more positive outlook is actually making it harder for smaller firms looking to attract talent. Now that much of the pandemonium has calmed, reps are using the opportunity to rebuild client loyalty as opposed to testing it by switching firms, McGovern said.

That’s something Bradley H. Bofford has come across more and more in recent months. His company, Financial Principles LLC, a Fairfield, N.J.-based independent financial advisory and wealth management firm, has had a lot of conversations with advisors in recent months, but has found many wirehouse reps have decided to ride it out. “It takes a unique individual to take that plunge and go independent,” he said.

Indeed, according to the third quarter Cerulli Edge—Advisor Edition, the majority of advisors leaving wirehouses are moving to the same type of firm. Data from Cerulli Associates’ shows that this trend is true in other channels as well. According to Cerulli, the decision to change firms boils down to two factors: compensation and platform support from the home office. “Ultimately, advisors are looking for an advisor-centric firm,” Bing Waldert, a director at the Boston-based research firm, said in a recent press release.

Of course there are still many reasons for advisors to make a move to independence, and firms are still garnering interest from reps who are sincere about making a change.

At the beginning of this year, “we had a lot of people calling who weren’t prepared to do anything, weren’t equipped to do anything, but were still calling anyway,” said Mark Penske, chairman and chief executive of United Advisors, a wealth management firm based in Manhattan. Much of this has waned, he said, but the firm is still getting calls from advisors who have been thinking about a move for a long time and are really serious.

If you are thinking of changing firms, or even if you’re not, now is a good time to be proactive about building your business.

Penske of United Advisors likens the environment to the aftermath of the technology bubble’s bursting several years ago. At that time many advisors were able to build significant businesses by helping people recover from overwhelming losses.

“Right now you have a point in the market where most people got stung. Some people more than others. There are a lot of opportunities for people who are willing to get out there and hustle,” he said. “It’s one of those times that doesn’t come around very often.”

Indeed, despite some of the lingering uncertainty in the market, it’s important for reps to take a step back and analyze what needs to be done to grow their business—what their strengths and weaknesses are and what else they could be doing to promote growth.

“This is the time for advisors if they’re feeling more confident and they’re feeling a little bit better, take advantage of that energy. Take advantage of that positive boost and do something with it,” said Diane MacPhee, whose firm, DMAC Consulting Services LLC in Manahawkin, N.J., provides coaching services to advisors.