February 1, 2106
by Danielle Verbrigghe
Wells Fargo’s independent brokerage division has boosted its advisor headcount, benefiting from a bevy of advisors recruited into existing practices through a new program and an uptick in recruiting wins from other indie brokerages.
Wells Fargo Financial Network (FiNet) added a net 77 advisors and 26 new practices in 2015. Overall assets for the division rose slightly to $86.8 billion from $85.5 billion a year earlier. In total, FiNet had 1,323 advisors in 637 practices at the end of 2015, according to information from the firm.
While FiNet continued to attract the bulk of its advisors from the wirehouse channel, it has also seen an uptick in the number of recruits joining from independent broker-dealers, says Alex David, managing director of branch development for FiNet. Historically, FiNet hadn’t recruited many advisors from other independent brokerages, in 2015 about 10% of new recruits came from the independent channel, David says.
“We think a lot of it has to do with the capabilities of some of the other independent firms out there [and] some of the pressures they’re experiencing from a regulatory perspective,” David says.
He points to the Department of Labor (DOL)’s proposed fiduciary rule as a factor driving some independent brokerage advisors to make a move if they deem that their current firm might not be well positioned to handle the changes. To take advantage of that, this year, FiNet will increase its focus on reaching out to “high-quality” advisors at independent brokerages, which hadn’t been an active recruiting focus in past years, David says.
David also credits a new program that helps FiNet practices add new advisors to their teams through recruiting or acquisitions. Wells began piloting the initiative, which it calls the Recruiting in a Box program, in 2014. Wells requires new teams to generally have at least $300,000 in production. But this program allows it to tuck smaller recruits into existing practices that are looking to grow. The program includes transition packages for advisors recruited into existing teams.
“It really has taken off pretty dramatically,” David says. In 2015, the first year the program was fully rolled out, FiNet recruited 43 advisors into existing practices, boosting its net advisor totals.
While these sorts of programs are common in the industry, such a program could appeal to teams that want to grow through adding advisors, says Jodie Papike, executive v.p. of Cross-Search, an advisor recruiting firm.
“For someone that’s looking to grow by adding other advisors, any help they could get from their broker-dealer is very important,” Papike says.
FiNet has opted not to target the hybrid RIA channel as an area for active expansion. While in 2013 FiNet rolled out a pilot program to offer brokerage and other services to independent RIAs, the firm hasn’t expanded the program and isn’t actively recruiting into it, David says.
While initially more than 60 advisors internally and externally had expressed interest, the pilot only ended up with a small number of RIAs participating, he said.
“Something like 90% of the reasons behind why some folks had an interest in developing a hybrid RIA, we were actually able to facilitate under our corporate RIA,” David says.
While some regional or super-regional brokerages like Raymond James and RBC have added affiliation models to serve hybrid independent RIAs, despite a rumored initiatives in past years by a few big firms to cautiously explore relationships with RIAs in past years, as reported, the big wirehouses have largely stayed away from this business model.
Advisors in the FiNet network are taking advantage of Wells’ fee-based investment advisory platforms offered through its corporate RIA, however. In fact, investment advisory business now represents 57% of overall FiNet advisors overall assets, compared with 13.9% in securities and 29.2% in packaged products such as mutual funds and annuities.
While the lion’s share of FiNet’s recruiting will likely continue to come from the wirehouse channel, the firm’s business model could appeal to some independent brokers looking to stay independent but with more support from a big institution, says Jon Henschen, president of Henschen & Associates, a recruiting firm focused on independent broker-dealers. FiNet’s transition packages could also be a draw, Henschen says.
“They tend to offer quite a bit more in upfront forgivable note money than all the other independent firms offer,” Henschen says.
The impending change of ownership of Cetera Financial, sparked by parent RCS Capital (RCAP)’s bankruptcy proceedings, and AIG’s recently announced sale of its independent brokerage, Advisor Group, to private equity firm Lightyear Capital, might also spur some independent advisor movement, Henschen says.
“The jury’s still out on whether reps are going to be content with these changes,” Henschen says. “We still don’t know the retention bonuses that are going to be offered to the reps, and that’s a big deal for the reps.”
FiNet tends to compete with Raymond James, which also offers an independent brokerage channel for the same types of advisors, Henschen says.