In February, Blyth & Associates Financial Services, a Chicago-based family practice with about $350 million in client assets, put in its 30-day notice with its broker/dealer Securities America to move to LPL Financial. But when the team officially started transitioning their book on March 27, the coronavirus had become a global pandemic, and shelter-in-place orders and social distancing guidance put a kink in their plans. In fact, FINRA and the SEC, which regulate the firm, had slowed down their operations and moved many of their employees to a work-from-home scenario.
“It’s like planning a wedding in the Bahamas, and then you find out a storm is coming in,” said Bill Blyth, president of Blyth & Associates. Bill co-founded the firm with his estate attorney brother, Robert. Bill’s son, Daniel, is the account manager, and their cousin, Michael O’Malley, is operations manager.
Luckily, Blyth found that the client account transfer forms he needed to file could be done electronically, so he was able to continue with the transition using the skeleton crew at FINRA.
The rest of the transition continued as well, thanks to remote working. LPL could not send its transition team to Chicago because of its own travel restrictions, so it worked with the firm remotely to acclimate it to the LPL platform. JFC Financial, the office of supervisory jurisdiction that supervised Blyth’s business at Securities America, also helped the team with the transition.
Blyth said he encountered two surprising revelations. First, he discovered that his clients were, in fact, easier to reach, with most of them sheltering in place. He’s been able to call them about transferring assets over to LPL and then email them a DocuSign link to complete the transfer process.
Second, contrary to popular belief, his 80-year-old clients are technologically equipped. And if they aren’t interested in doing the transfer online, he said his team can still print the forms and overnight them to clients.
Blyth started seeking a new independent broker/dealer when Advisor Group set out to acquire Ladenburg Thalmann in 2019. Blyth had been with Securities America for 25 years and had already gone through its last acquisition; in 2011, Ladenburg acquired the IBD from Ameriprise.
This latest deal didn’t appeal to Blyth, who has his reservations about private equity ownership. (Advisor Group is owned by private equity firm Reverence Capital Partners.)
“With private equity or venture capital, they’re trying to make the most money for their investors and their investors are not their clients and the people that work there,” Blyth said. “I’m much more focused on what’s good for the clients and what’s good for our team than what’s good for private equity.”
Blyth was attracted to LPL’s transparency, which comes from being a publicly traded company. The firm’s size and integrated technology were also contributing factors.
“Everyone in our industry should have a plan B and plan C at all times because companies are being bought and sold like poker chips,” he said.