2010 marks the silver anniversary for Tom Bradley, the outspoken head of TD Ameritrade Institutional. Reflecting on his tenure with the company and the RIA business as a whole, Bradley offers up insight on the importance of technology to advisor success, what financial reform means for the independent channel and what the future holds for the next generation of advisors. Bradley had a lot to say, an excerpt of which is provided here. Look for the extended interview in the October issue of Investment Advisor magazine.
Q: Looking back on 25 years, if you said to yourself, “When staring out, I never would have imagined ‘X’ would have subsequently happened,” what would that be?
A: I wish I could tell you that I had some incredible crystal ball and I knew everything that was going to occur. It was really more of a gut feeling on the direction in which this business was headed. When I first started, the RIA business didn’t really exist; certainly not in the form it is today. Back then it was all about the discount brokerage business. People never really looked favorably upon the stock brokerage business. There was always a level of distrust by the investing public. It was 1992 when one of the co-founders of [TD] Waterhouse came to me and said “Hey, we just got this thing off the ground, this RIA business. I want you to run that along with a few other things, the fixed income area and the mutual fund area.”
Q: Did you know anything about it at that point, or was this completely new to you?
A: Not at that point. It was very early on. I had some general knowledge that one of our competitors had gotten into the business and so we got into the business as well. It didn’t take me long to say “Wow! There’s really something here. And this is different. This is interesting.” At some point in 1992 I made a pitch to focus more on that particular business. And the company was willing to make a commitment to technology. This can be a great business for us but you can’t be half way in. The key investments are generally around technology.
Q: Was that technology a separating factor, a competitive differentiation?