For the firms participating in Investment Advisor’s annual Broker-Dealer Reference Guide, the competitive and convoluted atmosphere they face today can be perplexing. Advisors, clients and regulators are asking more and more of them, which translates into higher expenses. Still, investors are contributing more to retirement and other accounts, and positive returns in the equity markets have been lifting balances recently.
Yet industry consolidation continues. The number of independent broker-dealers stands at around 3,900, according to Fishbowl Strategies, down from nearly 4,600 in 2010, and at least 1,000 of these firm have less than 10 registered reps. Meanwhile, the number of RIAs is expanding and is close to 12,200.
The 2017 Broker-Dealer Reference Guide reveals some striking information. For instance, the number of reps leaving firms in this year’s survey surpassed the number joining them. Still, the average headcount at firms participating in the survey rose by a handful from last year, reaching 1,166 per BD in 2017.
Furthermore, the average level of fees and commissions per rep, or gross production, is rising. In fact, it is close to $232,000 — a jump of 6% from 2016 and 9% from 2015. Average assets per advisor are expanding at an even more aggressive pace. This figure is close to $31 million, up about 15% from a year ago. Nonetheless, average gross revenue per IBD dropped slightly from 2015 to 2016, illustrating the fact that many firms face intense competition for their advisors, clients and business. The fee-based figure, though, improved during the same period.
We collected 2016 data from broker-dealers in March and April for an objective ranking of the best firms by various metrics. You can find sortable tables of the top 10 firms on the following pages.
Top 10 by 2016 BD Gross Revenue
The largest broker-dealers are taking on more and more tasks for their advisors, which requires that firms invest more resources than in the past. The biggest IBD by sales is LPL Financial, with nearly $4 billion in gross revenues last year. That’s more than double the level produced by its closest rivals.
“LPL Financial is successful because we allow our advisors to focus on generating revenue by helping them eliminate, automate or outsource activities that can be time-consuming and burdensome in today’s world,” explained LPL Financial’s Andy Kalbaugh, head of national sales and consulting.
Top 10 by Number of Registered Reps
LPL tops this chart, too, with nearly 14,400 affiliated advisors. “[Our] business model creates flexibility for our advisors, allowing them to grow and evolve without having to change their broker-dealer partner. That has been our secret sauce for many years,” said Kalbaugh.