Tom Nally has a blunt message for the roughly 7,000 RIAs who custody with TD Ameritrade: We know you have questions about how Charles Schwab’s acquisition will impact your businesses, but it’s just too early to tell.
“Deals that are this big, they take time,” the president of TD Ameritrade Institutional said Thursday during the keynote session of the firm’s LINC Conference in Orlando, Fla. “We are barely past the starting line.”
The $26 billion deal is still undergoing regulatory review, he noted. As a result, the two firms have done little work in plotting the potential integration. “We just can’t engage,” he said.
But he did have one answer that has been top of mind for many TD Ameritrade clients. “There may be some onesies and twosies for certain types of accounts,” he said. But “for the vast majority of accounts, you will not have to repaper,” he said to a room that erupted in applause.
TD Ameritrade Institutional represents about two million RIA-controlled accounts, and the work advisors would face in obtaining client consent and porting client data can be a “pretty significant burden” for advisors, he acknowledged.
But whether it would be necessary was a question left unclear after a call immediately following the November 24 deal announcement. Schwab CEO Walt Bettinger said addressing the question of repapering would be premature. Competitors like E*Trade and Fidelity swooped in with campaigns aimed at advisors seeking stability shortly thereafter.
“We will do as much as we can electronically,” Nally assured conference attendees. To help jump-start that, he urged advisors to get their clients to sign up for digital document delivery.
In all, TD Ameritrade represents about $1.43 trillion in client assets, about half of which, or $713 billion, is controlled by RIAs that custody there, the most recent earnings documents indicate.
If the deal goes through, it will create a brokerage with $5.1 trillion in client assets and 24.1 million accounts.
Nally said TD Ameritrade staff remain “laser-focused” on ensuring RIAs continue to have excellent support.
“We are not slowing down or hanging up the towel,” he said. “We are continuing full steam ahead.”
And for now, TD Ameritrade and Schwab remain competitors, he noted. “We will go head-to-head with them,” he said, pointing to examples of investments the firm continues to make in its technology.
Chief among them is VEO One, a new iteration of TD Ameritrade’s 15-year old plug-and-play technology platform. It provides services that integrate with the system, ranging from rebalancing software to research tools to modeling services. At the conference, representatives of 86 third-party tech providers showed their wares in the exhibit area.
“VEO One is just a better experience,” said Nally, noting improved speed and simplified ways in which advisors can integrate whichever of the services they choose. TD Ameritrade expects to send notifications to the “first wave” of advisors it hopes to bring onto the platform in the coming week, he said.
Still, many big questions about the integration linger — including whether this, the firm’s 24th annual LINC conference, will be its last. Nally said TD Ameritrade is committed to being as transparent with clients as possible, at every point along the path.
But for now, even the deal’s close is somewhat a matter of speculation. The U.S. Department of Justice has asked for a second-round review of the merger, both Schwab and TD Ameritrade announced in regulatory filings late Wednesday. Executives at both firms have indicated the expected close date will be in the second half of this year. Nally said that projection has not changed but acknowledged nothing is set in stone.
RIAs attending the conference said they appreciate the candor, but some expressed concerns.
“A lot of us went to TD because it was the most similar in terms of services and products [to Schwab],” said E. Todd Berg, a managing partner at Guardian Wealth Management in Salt Lake City with $100 million under management. Berg, a former Schwab network branch manager, decided to strike out on his own in 2008. Schwab at the time made it clear that people like him could not do custody there.
“Bettinger had made a fairly solid line in the sand,” he said. Berg is watching closely to see whether he will be welcomed back after the TD Ameritrade deal.
For others, TD Ameritrade’s trading, technology and culture are key.
“Schwab is a little bit like talking to my grandfather and TD is more like talking to my young, hip cousin,” said Angela Bender, CEO and chief investment officer of AMJ Financial Wealth Management in Leesburg, Va.
When Bender left LPL Financial in 2012, she examined Schwab, TD Ameritrade and Fidelity. As a woman in the field, in particular, she found TD Ameritrade’s environment the most welcoming and progressive. Today, she relies solely on TD’s custody platform for her $190 million practice. “I’m really concerned about that,” she said of the potential for cultural change.
As a tactical trader, she’s also keenly watching how Schwab integrates the tools she values most, such as iRebal and ThinkPipes. TD Ameritrade’s Block Desk trading support team is “instrumental” to the intrinsic value she derives from the custodian, she added.
As someone who does business with all the Big Three custodians regularly, Triad Hybrid Solutions CEO Michael Bryan said systems are less of a concern for him. But any time a business partner undergoes a merger, it introduces uncertainty for his $3 billion platform and its users, Bryan said. Unfortunately, in this environment it is virtually inescapable, he said.
“I give Nally credit for not overpromising,” said Bryan. “But I’d love to go 60 days without seeing someone else’s press release.”
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