Schwab released results of a new study on advisors conducted in January. It turns out, the study shows that a new frugality has taken root among both groups. As for Schwab, Clark said “we think $50 billion of the $180 billion” in broker money in movement now “will fall to the independent space.” Finally, the news that HighTower had attracted yet another big wirehouse group–Strata Wealth Management from Rye, New York–to join HighTower led me to circle back with CEO Elliot Weissbluth, whom I hadn’t spoken to at length since our cover story on the company and its advisors in August 2009. Business was already great, HighTower will be growing even more quickly with the $100 million in capital it had just raised, and the lawsuit that SmithBarney had filed against HighTower for supposed poaching of the Strata brokers was “baseless,” and a “clear attempt to intimidate and deter,” but nevertheless a “failed attempt,” said Weissbluth (who happens to also be an attorney).
The subtext to all three conversations was that the wirehouses are at a transition point, typified to me by the fact that Sallie Krawchek of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch has felt it necessary to say that reports of wirehouse brokers going independent was “overblown.” Do any of you recall the head of a major wirehouse even acknowledging the existence of RIAs, much less pooh-poohing their threat to the wirehouse model? That’s a sea change showing that movement to the independent model has in fact spooked the big firms.
These conversations that yielded particular insights for me, and now perhaps you, from these industry leaders reminded me of the value of actual reporting in my business. It also made me think of the value of getting underneath the presenting statements of your clients (as the psychologists would say) to find out what’s really motivating them and their decision-making, which allows you to help plan to meet their true goals. That’s the message in our cover story this month with behavioral economist Dan Ariely, and in our profiles of the 2010 SMA Managers of the Year which follow. You have to get beyond the headlines to uncover actionable truth and insight. But then, you knew that already.