by Donna Mitchell and featured in Financial Planning
April is not turning out the way that Securities America’s advisors had envisioned.
Its parent company, Ameriprise Financial, had just agreed to back a $150 million settlement between the broker-dealer and investors who had lost about $400 million from faulty, and in some cases, fraudulent, private placement investments. On Friday, a federal judge in Dallas is expected to rule on whether to accept the settlement. In March, executives for Securities America argued that the firm’s survival hinged on a $21 million settlement that Securities America had worked out with class-action plaintiffs.
But last Monday, Ameriprise Financial announced in its first-quarter earnings release that it would find a buyer for Securities America.
“We appreciate the many years Ameriprise has committed to our independent business model. Their willingness to provide the financial means for the Medical Capital and Provident Royalties settlement leaves Securities America in a strong financial position to continue operations with no disruptions,” Janine Wertheim, spokesperson for Securities America said in a statement on Monday. “We believe there are many options that will afford enhanced opportunities and benefits to our advisors and employees. Our record first quarter results make this an opportune time for an ownership change.”
In the advisory business, where advisors and their client assets comprise a firm’s value, the announcement set off an inevitable scramble among recruiters and the company’s 1,800 advisors to find new positions at other firms.
“They are looking to move as soon as possible,” said one professional familiar with talks. “If advisors are doing mostly fee-based work, some of them will go directly to custodians. Otherwise, I don’t think most of them would jump to a custodian. They would find that changing affiliations, after they had worked for an IBD, would be too much of a hassle.”
Some advisors were baffled and irritated about the news, said the person familiar with the matter. “These advisors feel betrayed. They are saying they did not like to hear about it or to read about it the same way that you and I read about it. It was shameful.”
Wells Fargo Financial Advisor Network, the division held out as the bank’s independent advisory business, is known for its large transition packages, said the professional. Wells might attract representatives looking for large transition packages. Also, some advisors might feel better about working for a large bank perceived as stable. Cambridge Investment Research, and Commonwealth Financial Network, based in Waltham, Mass., are standouts for their service models, so they might attract advisors looking for a lot of practice management support, said the professional familiar with talks.
Commonwealth normally takes a reactive recruiting stance when it recruits advisors that are the right fit for the firm, Andrew Daniels, the managing principal of field development at Commonwealth said in a phone interview. It is not accelerating its recruiting plans because of the crisis unfolding at Securities America.
“On Monday we had multiple conversations with Securities America advisors,” said Daniels. “These are all advisors we had been talking to before Monday. The news did not trigger a new wave of phone calls. It did not change anything either way.”
Some advisors from Securities America have already contacted Jonathan Henschen, president of Henschen & Associates, a recruiting firm based in St. Croix, Minn. “They have a pretty good quality fleet of advisors,” Henschen said, adding that the negotiations are underway to move individuals and teams of advisors. “They have a lot of representatives producing $200,000 to $500,000 [in revenue] even larger producer groups. And there are a lot of CFPs in there.”
That range appears to approach average production levels at Raymond James Financial Services. At that firm, the top 20% of representatives had an average production of about $640,282, according to Financial Planning magazine’s 2010 ranking of the 50 largest independent broker-dealers.
“Recent interest from advisors at Securities America has been high, and the latest announcement may cause others to evaluate alternatives,” Bill Van Law, the national director for business development for Raymond James Financial Services, said in an emailed statement. “We welcome inquiries from Securities America advisors who seek an independent, advisor-centric firm with conservative management, and a long-term view.”
Ameriprise made its announcement on Tuesday, so it is still unclear whether the advisors will scatter or be sold wholesale to a single buyer. The Securities America advisors could end up at as many as 30 or 4 firms, Bill Willis, president and chief executive officer of Willis Consulting, Inc., based in Palos Verdes Calif.
“Traditionally, Securities America has been a highly independent, a fiercely independent group,” Willis said. “They are pretty inventive folks who would go someplace that would serve them well, but where they would also be left alone. They’ll probably want to stay away from those independents that are self-clearers.”
As for its prospects of a wholesale buyout, Henschen lists LPL Investment Holdings, the parent company of LPL Financial, and MetLife as potential buyers.
When reached for comment, MetLife said it was too early to say.
“The fact is the MetLife broker-dealer group is constantly recruiting talent from the industry,” said Jessica Ong, a spokesperson for MetLife. “We welcome those conversations, given the fact that we have four unique models for advisors to choose from.”
LPL Financial does not comment on speculation about its acquisition strategy, said Joseph Kuo, a spokesperson for the company. During its first-quarter earnings call on Monday evening, however, chairman and chief executive officer Mark Casady described the acquisition market in a way that does not immediately augur well for a deal.
“What has definitely come up in the broker-dealer space thus far has been distressed properties,” Casady said. “They are companies that are under extreme distress, or that they are having some issues having to deal with from a capital standpoint. We are not as interested in those properties, because they come with a lot of liability.”
LPL has definitely not been as excited by what has come up in the independent broker-dealer space thus far, Casady said. He added that LPL would, however, pick up with firms that are healthier than they were a year or two ago.
“We underwrite all acquisitions fully as if we were taking the advisor on through the organic growth process,” Casady said. “We will not take an advisor in the acquisition process that we would not have taken organically from a compliance standpoint.