When broker/dealers select a clearing firm to partner with, it pays to be choosy. This is one of the most critical relationships that any broker/dealer has, a true partnership–and the subtle and not-so-subtle differences in clearing firms can make a big difference in how well the broker/dealer’s affiliated advisors perform, how much time advisors can spend with clients as opposed to taking care of administrative tasks like ironing out trade problems and, ultimately, to a broker/dealer’s growth and bottom line.
Of course of all the clearing brokers, the three that get the bulk of the independent B/Ds’ business are Jersey City, New Jersey-based Pershing, a subsidiary of Bank of New York; National Financial, a Boston-based Fidelity Investments company; and First Clearing, in Richmond, Virginia.
What do correspondents want?
Independent B/D executives told us that the essential characteristics they look for in their clearing partner are service, responsiveness, flexibility in their systems, great platforms, especially of fee-based services, the ability to put information right on desktops in the field, and a level of comfort with executives at the clearing firm. In addition, the B/Ds want “the data” and that means all the data from accounts that clear through a clearing broker as well as away, such as annuity sub-accounts and mutual funds purchased outside of brokerage accounts.
“Really we were looking for service,” says Ralph DeVito, president of The Investment Center, in Bridgewater New Jersey. His firm had been with Wexford Clearing when First Clearing bought that firm, and DeVito decided it was an opportune time to look around at other potential clearing partners. They ended up at Pershing and have been happy with that choice. He was “sold on their service model, their systems, and technology that was geared specifically toward independents–NetXPro. It was a tough decision between the three: First Clearing, National, and Pershing.”
Woodbury Financial, the Woodbury, Minnesota-based independent B/D that is part of The Hartford, has been with Pershing for nearly 14 years, according to President and CEO Brian Murphy. They routinely send out an RFP at the end of their contract period, but Pershing consistently has won Woodbury’s business. Pershing Chairman Alton Jones, COO Brian Shea, Managing Director Jim Crowley, and others “spend a lot of time engaging with not just the senior leaders at their correspondent firms but our heads of technology and compliance and other areas to really try to find out what are our stress points as a broker/dealer and how they can they effectively come up with services, technology and other types of functions that help to relieve those stress points. Far beyond just being a clearing firm they really are a true business partner.”
Gordon D’Angelo, chairman, president, and CEO of NEXT Financial in Houston, has cleared through Pershing for all of NEXT’s existence, partly because the founders of NEXT cleared through Pershing before. He echoed the sentiments about service and responsiveness at Pershing, adding that they are “very easy to work with.” One way in which Pershing will partner with NEXT is to meet next month to discuss Pershing’s various platforms NEXT may not be using yet. D’Angelo praised Pershing’s fee-based platform with its Lockwood Advisors and others, an area, he says, that is “growing very fast.”