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Myths Wirehouses Perpetuate to Keep Brokers in Their Seats

October 30, 2015

The RIA market’s strong growth trajectory is no longer a secret in the wealth-management space. By 2018, RIAs are expected to enjoy a 16% share of the advisory space — a giant leap from the 9% share they enjoyed eight years ago, Aite Group data shows. Wirehouses, meanwhile, will continue to see their market size drop from 34% to 31% between 2007 and 2018. To the casual observer, it’s just another sign of how investors are keen on working with their advisors in an open-architecture, conflict-free business model that puts their interests first.

While wirehouses have made progress in adopting more ethically sound business practices, these brokerages still have structural issues in letting their advisors work freely and openly. As a result, they are using their propaganda machines to convince advisors to stay put and not break away. Below are some of the most common myths we see wirehouse executives propagating.

Myth 1: We have better technology. This is my favorite myth, as the reality is exactly the opposite. Wirehouses have been busy merging their massive legacy, mainframe systems with their parent companies’ banking systems in these post-financial-crisis years. Consequently, they have been limited in their resources to innovate. Now contrast this reality with the burgeoning independent-advisor-technology industry. RIA custodians and robo-advisor vendors are leveraging the cloud and mobile platforms to transform how the RIA’s advice is delivered. This trend has resulted in a wide gap between the RIA technology haves and the wirehouse technology have-nots.

Without question, RIAs are differentiating themselves through their advanced reporting capabilities, including the ability to drill down on holdings on the clients’ tablet during meetings. RIAs are also better positioned to provide full-balance-sheet aggregated wealth views. For example, RIAs are increasingly able to integrate CRM systems and financial-planning software to estimate the impact of various spending decisions on the clients’ future wealth capabilities. Wirehouses struggle to provide similar services.

Myth 2: We will sue you if you leave. With the broker protocol’s advent, advisors now have clarity on what information they can take when they leave the mother ship and open their own shop. Gone are the days of temporary restraining orders that can intimidate advisors from breaking away. Indeed, the rules are clear that wirehouses can’t and won’t sue advisors if they heed the protocol.

Myth 3: We have more and better investment products. Wirehouses have rightfully phased out the number of proprietary products they offer on their platforms, while expanding open-architecture options. But while investment choice has indeed expanded, wirehouses no longer have a monopoly on the best investment platforms. In fact, as independent RIAs, advisors can enjoy true open architecture and “shop the street” to find the highest quality investments for their clients. Further, RIAs are even able to access their old firms’ platforms, in certain cases, if they so choose.

Myth 4: You won’t make as much money as an RIA. When operating as an independent RIA, a firm owner can bring home on average 60% to 70% of revenues as income from being an advisor and profits from running the business. In contrast, wirehouse advisors must deal with a brutal “grid” that governs the maximum compensation that can be earned in those brokerages. Even the million-dollar producers top out in the 40% range.

So independent advisors should welcome a model that allows them to monetize their RIA business for multiples of revenues when they retire — sometimes in the hundreds of millions of dollars for breakaway RIA firms like Luminous Capital and Constellation Wealth. Overall, the differences can be life changing.

If wirehouses are counting on these myths to keep advisors in their seats, they are in for a surprise. Advisors know they have other options. Indeed, a change in their business model can create increased opportunities to build stronger value for themselves, their families and their clients for years to come.