As has been the case seemingly forever when Investment Advisor presents the findings of its annual Broker-Dealer Reference Guide, the independent broker-dealer industry is in the midst of a balancing act between running profitable businesses and dealing with new regulatory burdens and changing demographics among both its representatives and those reps’ end clients. As a subsection of the overall brokerage industry, the industry itself is shrinking. Over the past five years, according to FINRA numbers published in March 2016, the number of its member firms fell 11.5% from 2011 to 3,941 firms. The number of registered reps increased 1.7% over that same time to 641,157.
A February blog by broker-dealer recruiter Jonathan Henschen, using data from research firm Fishbowl, reported that at year-end 2015 there were 4,034 BDs, down from 4,578 in 2010. Henschen argued in his blog that these BD closings “could very well be the tip of the iceberg,” considering how the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule affects broker-dealers.
Yet the movement toward independence continues. A Fidelity Clearing and Custody report released in late April on advisor movement counted 34,000 financial advisors who had switched firms in 2014, the last year for which data was available. The Fidelity survey of 692 advisors who had switched over the last five years found that 50% chose an RIA firm or affiliated with an independent broker-dealer. Why did they move from banks and wirehouses to one of those independent models? The most-often cited reasons were a desire for more operational control, a greater ability to focus on client needs and more freedom to develop and implement investment strategies. Yes, the desire to make more money motivated these switchers, but broker-dealer recruiters and executives take heed: 30% of them said they had done so to achieve a better work-life balance.
The following pages show the top 10 broker-dealers by various metrics. Click here to download a PDF of all 67 broker-dealers who responded to our annual survey.
Top 10 by 2015 BD Gross Revenue
Scale matters when it comes to running a successful independent broker-dealer, as seen in our listing of the top 10 biggest BDs measured by revenue. But notice the interesting correlation between the biggest firms by overall revenues and fee-based revenues. That may bode well for BDs who wish to ride the secular trend toward fees but also comply with the regulatory costs forced by the DOL’s fiduciary rule. However, smaller, more boutique-like BDs continue to flourish, and the crashing and burning of Nicholas Schorsch’s BD empire over the past year suggests that scale alone does not guarantee success.
Top 10 by Number of Registered Reps