If you want a handle on what’s happening in the RIA space (mergers, acquisitions, recruiting, retention), there are few better people to turn to than Michael Di Girolamo. The senior vice president and managing director of Raymond James Financial Services’ Investment Advisors Division has his pulse on the industry. Di Girolamo was instrumental in developing the division for the company, which was first launched in 2001 and now has almost $4 billion in assets.

Di Girolamo was previously chief compliance officer for RJFS, as well as the firm’s investment advisor. He’s been with Raymond James since 1984, in various operational and management capacities. He graduated from the University of Florida, which means he’s a Gators fan. We’ll try not to let that color our take on his comments.

2010 was the “year of going nowhere” for advisors in the RIA space. Is it still the case?

What’s interesting is that we, like most other firms, saw a slowdown in recruiting at the beginning of 2011, but that rebounded tremendously as we moved further into the year. We’re seeing the most interest come from large wirehouse reps and also from employees in regionally based firms. They’ve been on the sidelines for about six months, but now the pain points are hurting enough for them to make the move.

You say pain points; what’s causing them? What is the impetus for the moves?

A number of reasons: There’s consolidation in the space, turnover in upper management at a lot of firms and additional cutbacks. The consolidation might have brought about a change in how the firm is run that has now trickled down to the branch level. The reps are starting to realize, “this isn’t what I signed up for.” The additional cutbacks have many reps feeling insecure about the resources the firm is able to provide; they’re just not confident that enough will be dedicated in a way that allows them to get the job done.

What about retention and recruitment incentives?

Many of the retention packages in consolidated firms are burning off, so it makes sense for them to change. As far as recruitment bonuses, they haven’t quite burned off, but they’ve gotten enough of the way through that it still makes economic sense for the rep to pay the remainder back and leave.

What about with mergers and acquisitions in the RIA space?

There certainly was greater interest in M&A in 2010. I’m not seeing the number of advisors looking to sell their firms and exit the business that I once did. Part of that is due to the fact that revenues have rebounded and they’re making money again, so there’s more incentive to retain the business. On the flipside, though, we’re seeing a good deal of interest in purchasing firms; there’s just a much higher number of buyers than sellers.

How, specifically, is Raymond James taking advantage of the current recruiting environment?

We’re seeing stronger potential in our pipeline than at any other time since I’ve been at the firm. We brought on more in the first quarter than in the first six months of last year. It will probably triple our current recruitment numbers.

How are you preparing for another downturn or the possibility of a double-dip recession?

We’ve enhanced our efforts to educate and train our recruiting staff, and we’ve enhanced our recruitment packages so that they are some of the most competitive in the industry. We’ve also enhanced the resources for our IT consulting, which is in line with trends in the industry. By that, I mean we have IT consultants dedicated to making the advisor more efficient from a technology standpoint. They act as true consultants, as opposed to telling the advisor that they have to do something a certain way. It’s more about what fits with their practice.