Wells Fargo Advisors has set no hard, numerical growth targets for its recently launched RIA channel, according to John Peluso, the head of First Clearing, the tradename for the wirehouse’s clearing unit.

“We don’t have any goals for this program in 2019, but we are open for business and looking to grow our franchise,” Peluso says.

In early December last year, Wells Fargo announced it would open several RIAs in 2019. On Tuesday, Jan. 29, Peluso provided additional details about those plans. The company is specifically launching a service to provide support for its own and rival wirehouses’ advisors who want to break away from the traditional broker-dealer model and strike out as independents at RIAs.

For those advisors, who establish a fee-only business model, WFA will offer a new custody service for their clients’ assets through its First Clearing unit. It will also offer the breakaway advisors middle office support and technology from its partner in the new launch, TradePMR, which has provided those services to RIAs for two decades.

Peluso steers clear of setting rigid expectations for the new RIA channel because, he argues, WFA is entering uncharted terrain. “I’m confident there will be some learning along the way as we refine our approach,” Peluso says.

But WFA has long had a non-employee channel for advisors, known as FiNET. The newly launched RIA channel, however, will be available to only advisors working for RIAs registered with the SEC (and which, therefore, have the requisite $100 million in assets under management) and use the fee-only business model. “No hybrids,” Peluso says.

WFA advisors who are employees of the wirehouse now, if they enter the new channel, will agree to a voluntary separation of service. But they will be able to take to their breakaway firm their history of accounts and client documents in a much more comprehensive manner than possible if they were not staying within the WFA brand, according to Robb Baldwin, TradePMR’s CEO. Baldwin, a former RIA advisor, founded TradePMR in 1998 to provide what he describes as “white-glove” technology and middle office support for independents.

Ultimately, Peluso predicts more of the advisors joining the newly launched RIA channel will come from rival wirehouses than from WFA. The new RIA channel “will grow primarily from recruiting advisors from the competition,” Peluso forecasts.

Don’t misconstrue the new RIA channel as a response to market volatility, or Wells Fargo’s recent multiple, prior brand-tarnishing public relations scandals, Peluso warns.

“This is not a knee-jerk reaction to recent events. We are taking industry trends into account. Conditions for advisors have changed. It’s different than it was five years ago. We wanted to be able to offer a way for advisors to affiliate with us in another fashion,” he says.