By just about any measure, registered investment advisors are winning the battle, and maybe, just maybe, the whole war against the captive forces of the wirehouses. You can see it in the net new assets that are flooding into the RIA custodians’ coffers while wirehouse assets are flat at best. You can see it in the number of brokers leaving the wire firms for the autonomy and opportunity for entrepreneurship that exists in the RIA world (helped, of course, by the rather difficult times being faced by people at Citigroup, Merrill, Bear Stearns, and Lehman Brothers, to name just a few). You can see it in the nearly wholehearted embrace of the fee business in those same troubled wire firms.
You can see it too in the slight swagger that the custodians are sporting these days, and in the most recent instance, of the bustling conferences with high-profile speakers (and their even higher speaking fees) to inform, motivate, and entertain.
That was certainly the case at the 10th annual Pershing Insite conference in Hollywood, Florida, in early June, where at the opening session chairman and CEO Rich Brueckner proclaimed that registrations were up 85% over the prior year. Some 2,000 people sat at Alan Greenspan’s feet, chuckled at Democratic politico Paul Begala’s wry yet touching reminiscences of life in the Clinton White House, and hundreds even bellowed a Beethoven tune in broken phonetic German after being rehearsed by Boston Philharmonic Conductor Benjamin Zander.