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TD Ameritrade Stands Tall

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At its 14th annual conference, held February 3-6 in Orlando, TD Ameritrade Institutional reported record attendance of 2,000, including 1,200 advisors. That strong showing matched the confidence displayed by TD Ameritrade President and CEO Fred Tomczyk and TD Institutional President Tom Bradley in both private and public comments. In the opening session on February 4, Tomczyk said TD had formerly focused on the active trader, but that now it has had a “transformation,” and is seeking to become a “premier asset gatherer” with a focus on service, and that the firm’s vision is to be the “better investment firm for today’s investor and RIA.”

Tomczyk said TD Ameritrade had added $9 billion in assets in the first quarter of FY2010 (the last calendar quarter of 2009), and that referrals from TDA call centers to its branches had resulted in $3 billion going to the branches. Over all, clients assets totaled $319 billion, Tomczyk said, “higher than before the crisis,” and that as a subsidiary of TD Bank, one of “only four AAA-rated banks in the world” and which unlike most other banks is “long deposits; short loans,” TD Ameritrade had the financial backing to take advantage of opportunities that presented themselves in 2010, including an upgrade of its underlying technology platform.

Tomczyk talked of TD’s “continued commitment to RIAs,” saying that “if we have a high-net-worth investor looking for custom advice–you are our solution,” and praised TD Institutional President Bradley for showing “what leadership is all about” during the markets and economic crisis.

In his remarks, Bradley noted the high attendance at the event, which he said “makes us the largest conference in the RIA business,” promised that Institutional would provide more fixed income opportunities for its RIAs, along with more options options (advisor trading of which were up 125%, he said, over the past two years), but tempered his enthusiasm by noting that “we have momentum, yes, but the wirehouses are wounded, not dead.”

The high-profile nature of the event was punctuated by the appearance of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton (prior to his most recent health issues), who were warmly received by the audience, and by NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, who spoke just two days before the Super Bowl.

In a separate interview, Bradley, who acknowledged that with his long tenure at TD Ameritrade and before that at Waterhouse, and with some high-profile departures and shifts in responsibility in the executive ranks at Fidelity and Schwab’s RIA operations lately (see story below), he was “the last man standing,” said TD Ameritrade Institutional would continue to focus on service and technology. Speaking of TD’s referral program, he said there were now some 140 advisors in the program, that referrals were up 28% from the first quarter of FY 2009 to Q1 FY 2010, that new assets were up 61%, and that more than $6 billion had been referred to affiliated RIAs over the past year.

In his public comments for some time, Bradley has been an unabashed champion of a fiduciary standard for all profession advice-givers, and in the same interview, he said he belives “the fiduciary model is the model of the future.” He said “there is a proper role for salespeople,” but let the client choose which model, “don’t confuse the investor.” Speaking plainly, Bradley said “if you’re advising, be a fiduciary,” and that he thinks “suitability is probably dead.” Noting that the fiduciary standard seems to be gaining traction in Washington, he suggested that legislators and regulator “maybe have listened.”–James J. Green