Financial advisors are starting to turn their backs on the idea of going independent and are instead favoring the benefits of working at wirehouses, according to a survey conducted by the Boston-based consultancy Aite Group.
The survey aimed to shed light on the movement of brokers across the wealth management industry by measuring brokers’ desire to leave their employers, as well as their “motivations, envisioned timeframe for breaking away, desired destination, and expected challenges.”
As it stands, about one-third of financial advisors who plan on leaving one of the four wirehouses said they would prefer to move to another wirehouse, said Alois Pirker, brokerage analyst at Aite. That contrasts with just one-fourth who said they favored independence.
To be sure, the allure of independence is still there for some in the industry, Pirker says. “While there are severe risks involved, a lot of brokers wish to go independent because they get the chance to be an entrepreneur versus being an employee,” Pirker said.
But the four wirehouses—Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch [BAC], Wells Fargo Advisors [WFC] and UBS Wealth Management Americas [UBS]—are starting to sweeten the pot for FAs to stay. (For more in-depth coverage and analysis of the independent issue, see the upcoming July cover story of On Wall Street.)
Top-producing brokers at Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney were offered retention perks to stay with their new firm for years. “MSSB offers mortgages and loans for five to six years,” Pirker says. But if they leave sooner, they’re on the hook to pay it back. “This is a way they stay tied to the company,” Pirker says.
Aite estimates that about 7,000 brokers left the wirehouses last year. However, that number constantly fluctuates because of mergers and other factors that can affect the industry over time. Pirker used Merrill Lynch as a prime example where brokers were not accounted for before the merger with Bank of America. “This number is to be taken with a grain of salt because more movement can happen.”
The biggest reason behind an advisor breakaway is uncertainty with their employer (33%), followed by a desire for a higher payout (27%), no retention package (3%) and the company’s damaged brand (3%).
Retention packages are a good strategy for a firm wanting to keep advisors satisfied, but it’s not a long-term solution, Pirker says. “The retention packages means a lot to keep advisors, but it buys the wirehouses time, not loyalty.”