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Industry Spotlight > Broker Dealers

Breaking Away

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For brokers, a successful transition to independence is contingent upon taking that decisive, entrepreneurial leap–a giant step away from the comforts of compliance departments, tech support, and company-supplied research and performance reports, and into an unsure world of overhead, partnerships, and client retention concerns.

As the number of breakaway brokers continues to rise, broker/dealers and custodians have implemented programs designed to make the broker’s transition to independence as seamless as possible. Additionally, some custodians are reaching out to existing RIAs that are looking to grow by adding brokers as partners or buyers.

This month, Schwab Institutional issued its latest MKT report–”Recruiting Advisors Transitioning to Independence”–outlining some general principles for independent RIAs that are recruiting advisors transitioning to independence–or ATIs, in Schwab-speak.

According to research from Tiburon Strategic Advisors presented in the Schwab report, about 1,500 advisors are making the switch to independence each year. The report focuses on how RIAs can screen for successful ATIs; outlines the financial criteria for becoming an owner; and discusses management of the firm, creating silos, and ATI compensation. Information on obtaining a copy of the report can be found by hitting the Contact Me button at

In late March, Fidelity Investments’ Registered Investment Advisor Group (FRIAG) launched an online planning tool that allows wirehouse brokers and independent B/D reps to map a customized plan for shifting their practices to an RIA model. Information on their model can be found at

Some 200 such “breakaway broker” firms made the switch to RIA status in 2005 through Fidelity, according to FRIAG Executive VP Scott Dell’Orfano. “We can play the role of a consultant” to these advisors, he says, noting that many of these breakaway brokers are “corner-office teams” with significant books of business who are attracted to the fully independent business model because they want to build a brand, have an entrepreneurial bent, and want the freedom to pick the most appropriate products and services for their clients.

It’s not just custodians who are in the game; many independent broker/dealers also have significant initiatives to woo wirehouse brokers into their camps, especially the larger B/D firms like AIG, Raymond James, and ING. Individual B/Ds have programs, too, such as GunnAllen’s.

The Tampa-based B/D had a reputation in the past for welcoming representatives with less than sterling records, but the recently appointed director of national sales for the B/D, David Levine, says “there’s been a culling” of the rep force, and that even very big producers “who don’t meet our standards; they’re gone.”

Nevertheless, the firm has recruited advisors to make up the difference–the current rep force numbers about 850–partly through the efforts of a dedicated transition team and a personal Transition Consultant to educate brokers as to what they can expect should they go independent. Levine says the firm is trying to “lead with technology,” and that Gunn Allen “absolutely supports” reps having their own RIAs.


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