The law of large numbers doesn't seem to apply to our highly anticipated 27th annual survey of independent broker-dealers. The big keep getting bigger. Annual revenue for the Top 5 grew 11.7%. Of the Top 50, no less than 60% reported double-digit revenue growth. For the first time, the No. 1 firm on the list - it's LPL Financial again this year - reported total revenues topping $3 billion.
"Given the choppiness of the markets, it's interesting and encouraging that revenues would grow that much ... especially given the upheaval that investing generally has produced," Financial Planning contributorCraig Israelsen, who started working on the survey more than a decade ago, tells me.
"If my investments consistently had an 11% or 12% growth rate, I'd take that." Of course, as Israelsen notes, a major factor in the revenue growth is "consolidation and compression" in the industry.
Consolidation, though, doesn't mean contraction, as FP senior editor Ann Marsh writes in our cover story. Despite shut downs, more than 97% of brokers who lost their jobs in the past five years found new shops after their companies were bought or when they landed new gigs at big houses with more capital, better technology and more resilience to shocks, such as large settlement charges, she writes.
Increased pricing competition is making the services of independent B-Ds more affordable, Marsh adds. Among the key trends driving changes in the industry and in all of financial services are the leaps and bounds of technological progress. Technology is giving mass-affluent - and increasingly middle-class - clients access to tools available only to the rich a generation ago.
And advisors and investors have become more savvy about how they want to fill out portfolios. "The appetite for alternatives is increasing and will continue to increase," Israelsen says. "Broker-dealers that don't adequately provide pathways to alternatives are going to be behind the curve."
Bigger picture, Marsh tells me that, for many companies, size is only one important factor. Even the larger firms are trying to recreate some of the feel of those mom-and-pop days when clients could know their brokers very well, and count them among their friends, she adds. As the industry consolidates, time will tell whether the increasingly large companies that survive can retain some of that high-touch feel that characterized the industry in its nascence.