Investors will refer their family and friends to their advisor if they’re satisfied with the service. For financial practices that seek to recruit advisors, the game plays by much the same rules. (And RIA recruiting is a trend still in full trot, say RIA platform firms: The breakaway broker phenomenon continues.)
“A happy advisor talks. An unhappy advisor talks as well, sometimes more,” as John Hyland dryly puts it. Hyland ought to know; a founding partner of Morristown Financial Group in Morristown, N.J., Hyland is benefiting from good word on the street. Last year Morristown, the largest branch at LPL Financial by gross production, recruited 70 advisors, bringing the total to 172. Gross production more than doubled, to $25.1 million, the practice reports. With $3.6 billion in assets under management, Hyland says he expects to bring on another 70 to 100 advisors this year and a “significant” boost in AUM.
One reason he’s that optimistic is his move last month to register with the SEC to launch Morristown’s own hybrid RIA. Hyland says it will start operating this quarter. The hybrid is expected to attract advisors who want to do both fee-based and commission business. But the core reason for Morristown’s growth is the practice’s compliance service, AdvisorAdvantEDGE, Hyland says. Morristown launched it two years ago as a way for independent advisors to outsource supervisory functions; Hyland says it’s become a big attraction as more advisors consider independence. Morristown’s transition team assists with moving books of business and other chores that advisors hate. Hyland says Morristown has reduced the amount of time that a transition takes from a typical length of three to six months to up to three weeks.
He and co-founder Patrick Sullivan launched Morristown and joined LPL in 1997 after working at the former American Express Financial Advisors. Morristown’s footprint is chiefly in the Northeast but with a reach from Wisconsin to Virginia. (Other firms, such as HighTower are seeking a national reach too.) Hyland says the advisors he recruited last year hailed from outfits across the board: banks, wirehouses, and regional broker/dealers, with no one group standing out. Reasons for leaving varied. Wirehouse advisors were unhappy with the damage their model sustained in the financial crisis. For advisors from regional B/Ds, the spurs ranged from differences with local management to their interest in LPL, which went public last year (their quarterly earnings report will be released Monday.)
Interest in the IPO drew some advisors but left others wary, Hyland says. Some were pleased with the prospect of a B/D with more access to capital, which in turn provides increased leverage for recruiting and funds for technology. “Some people just like the cachet. ‘Hey, we’re a publicly traded company,’” he says. Others thought the focus at LPL could change from the advisor to the needs of the shareholders. “We didn’t believe that was going to be the case. This whole company is built on focus on the advisors,” Hyland says. “If that changes, we all vote with our feet in our industry. If the model doesn’t work anymore, you’ll see advisors leave.
“I have a lot of confidence that LPL will still focus on the advisors as a key part of the business model,” he adds.
Aite Group Senior Analyst Doug Dannemiller says more practices like Morristown are setting up hybrid RIAs as a draw for advisors who are considering a transition to a fee-only model but still want to retain their commission business. It’s on more advisors minds as the SEC sets up regulations that would impose a fiduciary standard on B/Ds. “When you offer both avenues, then you can use the commission business while they’re building the other side of the practice,” Dannemiller says. And adding 70 advisors is a real accomplishment for a practice, he adds. Last month Fidelity Investments said it had added 146 breakaway brokers and teams managing $12 billion in assets last year. “As a point of comparison, a small Morristown Financial adding 70 advisors is a pretty big deal,” he says.