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2019 IA25 Independent Broker-Dealer Winners

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Given the fact that there are over 3,700 securities firms registered with the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, this category is a tough one to compete in for votes. All four leaders in this group made last year’s IA25 list — a strong indication of their solid support.

Garnering the most votes is Cambridge Investment Research President & CEO Amy Webber, a FINRA board member. Cambridge, a privately held firm in Fairfield, Iowa, works with about 3,300 independent advisors.

“As we went from a $100 million in revenue to $200 million to just under $1 billion, [we found that] the problems become different when you are committed to protecting private control and therefore the strategies become different,” Webber said last fall. “It requires intentional, thoughtful focus.”

The number of broker-dealers keeps shrinking — by about 100 per year, and “the trend of consolidation will continue,” she explained. “There are a significant number of small and midsize … firms that … don’t have the investments and the resources they need to put into technology and compliance. That’s not going to go away.”

Cambridge recently began working with the networking group W Source to boost the numbers of women in the advice industry. In terms of its own leadership, the broker-dealer says 56% of its assistant vice presidents of women, 50% of its vice presidents, 30% of its senior executives and 26% of its FINRA-licensed advisors.

Valerie Brown, executive chairman of Advisor Group and a board member of the Financial Services Institute, supports the efforts of about 7,000 indie advisors with FSC Securities Corporation, Royal Alliance Associates, SagePoint Financial and Woodbury Financial, which just added more than 400 advisors from Questar Capital and Questar Asset Management.

Advisor Group — which Centerbridge Partners is reportedly trying to buy for $2 billion — formed a relationship with W Source about a year ago. “When we learned about The W Source, we knew it was a perfect complement to our existing programs,” according to Brown. “By providing playbooks, coaching support and more, the W Source is a unique program designed to make it easy for women advisors to establish their own local professional networking groups.”

According to Cerulli Associates, the share of female advisors is about 16%. The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association says about 19% of all advisors are women. The number of female Certified Financial Planners now tops 19,265, representing 23% of all CFPs.

Securities America President & CEO Jim Nagengast has been with the Omaha-based IBD — which works with about 2,600 financial advisors — since 1994. About a year ago, he joined Webber on the FINRA board.

At the time, FINRA President and CEO Robert Cook said: “We congratulate Jim on his election to the board by our other large firm members. We look forward to his insights on FINRA’s strategy, programs and operations.”

As the voice of indie BDs, FSI supported Nagengast’s membership over that of Shelley O’Connor, then co-head of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. FSI President and CEO Dale Brown explained that Nagengast “has been a highly visible leader in our industry, at FSI and in his community, providing insights and expertise on the future of the financial advice space, and through his extensive charitable work.”

Nagengast said he chose to run for the FINRA board seat “to give voice to the concerns and interests of independent, bank- and insurance-owned firms.” The key issues FINRA needs to focus on, he explained last year, “are continuing to make progress in enhancing transparency, especially around the rulemaking process, while promoting greater industry diversity.”

Speaking of FSI, the organization’s chair and 1st Global President David Knoch rounds out the BD category of the IA25 list this year. 1st Global has been in the news lately as the IBD is set to become part of Blucora — the parent company of the broker-dealer HD Vest and software maker TaxAct; both 1st Global and HD Vest are based in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and use Fidelity’s National Financial Services for clearing.

With 1st Global’s 850 advisors and $18 billion in client assets, the combined entity should have close to 4,500 advisors and $60 billion in total assets, Blucora says.

“Blucora owns TaxAct … and was already building synergies around HD Vest’s base of CPA-centric advisors,” said popular advisor and blogger Michal Kitces on Twitter. “1st Global was ‘the other’ big CPA-centric broker-dealer. Just merges together two already strategically well-aligned firms.”

Knoch has his plate full. “We must continue our work to preserve our advisors’ independent contractor status, … build coalitions and safeguards that keep our firms safe from cyberattacks, … limit burdens imposed on operating a financial services practice, make regulatory arbitrage a thing of the past and raise the standards for all those who give financial advice to American families,” he said earlier this year about his focus as chair of the advocacy group.


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