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TD Ameritrade CEO Split With Board Over 'Way Forward,' He Says

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Many industry watchers reacted to news of Tim Hockey’s departure as head of TD Ameritrade with shock.

But on a call with equity analysts late Monday, the CEO and president — who is set to exit his current role by late February — made it clear the development did not come out of the blue and did concern the future of the company.

Talks Hockey held with the board “over a period of time … were open and honest conversations about the way forward,” he said. “And … we just agreed that this was the right time for a transition … to be public about it, and that I will stick around until February of 2020. It’s not really much more interesting than that.”

When asked if he could share any further details on the board’s current strategy and how it relates to leadership, Hockey explained, “The board has approved our strategy and, in discussions with the management team, we are more than energized around the delivery of that. There has been no change in [its] direction.”

Wait, What?

Still, for industry players like Kyle Van Pelt, a strategist with SS&C Advent, the head-scratching continues. “This is a huge jolt of news that comes at a time when TD Ameritrade seems to be firing on all cylinders,” he told ThinkAdvisor. “I thought Tim was doing a great job!”

The news comes roughly two years after industry observers lamented the departure of Tom Bradley, then head of both RIA (or institutional) and retail operations at TD Ameritrade. But Bradley’s tenure ended after TD merged with Scottrade and Pete deSilva was put in charge of the firm’s combined distribution business.

Who could fill Hockey’s shoes? “Will it be Tom Nally?” Van Pelt asked. Nally is head of TD Ameritrade Institutional. 

Judging from its latest quarterly earnings, one possible emphasis for TD Ameritrade could be further cost cutting. The company said Monday that it would close 80 retail branches, or about 20% of its locations; the move comes about two years after it wrapped up its merger with Scottrade and will leave it with 283 locations.

‘Winning’ on Earnings

In terms of the firm’s overall quarterly results vs. those of rivals, “We are winning,” Hockey said. “We are feeling pretty good on the delivery of our strategy so far.”

TD Ameritrade said its revenues grew 8% year over year to $1.5 billion, net income grew 23% to $555 million, and earnings jumped 27% to $1.00 a share. Net new client assets were roughly $19.5 billion.

Last week, rival Schwab said its revenues increased 8% year over year to $2.7 billion, while net income also expanded 8% to $937 million. It reported net new assets of $37.2 billion. 

Fidelity, a private firm that doesn’t release its quarterly results, had revenues of $20.4 billion in 2018 and profits of $6.3 billion. Its net flows for the full year were about $309 billion. 

“Many people expect TD to be Schwab or Fidelity, and that is just an unreasonable expectation at this point in time,” Van Pelt said. “TD’s strategy seems to be working beautifully, but it’s going to take a lot longer than a couple of years to pass Schwab or Fidelity.”

TD Ameritrade has given itself time — some seven months — to make its next leadership announcement. This gives its advisor and investor clients, along with lots of industry watchers, plenty of time to ponder what’s next for Hockey and his replacement.  

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