It was a bad first fiscal quarter for TD Bank Financial Group, with rising loan losses in Argentina and shaky telecom companies pushing net income down 14.9%. But amid the darkening credit picture, TD Waterhouse Institutional Services, the independent advisor arm of the Canadian bank's U.S. discount broker, is emerging as one of the group's success stories.
At Partnership 2002, TD Waterhouse Institutional's annual conference held in Orlando starting on Feb. 20, President J. Thomas Bradley Jr. unveiled two new partnerships to enhance services to advisors and maintained that asset inflows have remained robust despite the weak U.S. equity market.
In an interview with Investment Advisor, Bradley, a 16-year veteran of the firm, disclosed that assets controlled by advisors climbed about 35% over the past year, to $16 billion, and now comprise 16% of TD Waterhouse's total U.S. assets. Indeed, assets coming from advisors now make up a third of all new inflows into the discount broker, Bradley said. While most of TD Waterhouse Institutional's advisor clients still rely on more than one custodian, Bradley noted that he has been steadily winnowing out smaller advisor accounts. As a result, TD Waterhouse has slashed the number of advisors it serves by a third over the past year, to around 2,000. "We have refocused on advisors with $25 million-plus, $50 million plus [in client assets]," Bradley says.
During the Partnership conference, which ended Feb. 23, Bradley announced TD Waterhouse Institutional had forged ties with Financial Engines, which offers financial planning tools via many corporate 401(k) programs, and with Foundation Source, a Web-based start-up that makes it comparatively simple to establish foundations, control disbursements, and research charitable giving opportunities online.
While remaining vague on the details of the Financial Engine deal, Bradley promises that its Monte Carlo simulation-based application will be "totally integrated with our systems so you will be able to pass client data back and forth." He expects Financial Engines will be available to TD Waterhouse advisors by the end of 2002. Bradley adds that down the road, "the vision is to have all our mutual funds"--11,500 at last count--on the Financial Engines platform. Separate accounts as well? "It's possible," he says.
With Charles Schwab offering more financial planning services through its branches and those of its U.S. Trust unit, Bradley says that "I get asked all the time [by advisors], 'Will you ever compete with us?'" After all, TD Waterhouse already offers full-service brokerage and financial services to customers in Canada. To advisors pressing him on the issue, "my answer is that we can't predict the future. But what is important is that we will never promise that we will not compete with you." For now, anyhow, Bradley is content to have his branches refer those with planning needs to independent advisors; the average client in TD Waterhouse's Advisor Direct referral program has $600,000 in assets, he says.