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Raymond James Ramping Up Its RIA with New Leadership, Investment

Raymond James Financial said it is moving its registered investment advisor unit out of Raymond James Financial Services, its IBD division, and setting it up as a separate division with its own president. The new president, Bill Van Law, said the company plans to make a significant investment in the business in the months ahead.

“We recognize it needs to be tweaked to be better,” Van Law, 49, said. “Everything’s on the table.”

Six weeks ago, RJ’s competitor, LPL Financial, announced it was buying Fortigent, a wealth management platform provider for advisors with high-net-worth clients. The acquisition should strengthen LPL’s position within the RIA market where advisors need more high-end services.

The appeal of RIAs is also getting a boost as federal regulators consider extending the fiduciary standard of investor care to brokerages who currently operate under the less restrictive suitability standard, said Sophie Schmitt, a senior analyst at Aite Group. “A lot of firms see the RIA model as appealing to high-net-worth investors, even to more mainstream investors, as they come to realize the benefits of working with an advisor who’s clearly aligned with your interests,” she said.

“RJ has long been poised to make this move and accelerate its entrance into the RIA custody business,” said Charles Roame, managing partner at Tiburon Strategic Advisors. “For whatever reason, they have not grown this business in a relative way compared to their greater success in other businesses; it’s been mostly an accommodation for existing RJ reps in the past.”

Although the RIA unit has been part of Raymond James’ platform for 10 years, its presence is significantly smaller than the employee advisor business, Raymond James & Associates, and the independent broker/dealer business at RJFS. The RIA unit serves about 250 advisors and has nearly $7 billion in assets under management, the company said. RJA has about 1,300 advisors and more than $85 billion in AUM; RJFS has about 3,200 advisors and AUM of $143 billion.

Van Law joined Raymond James in 2003 and most recently recruited for the IBD division. He said over the past two months the company surveyed RIA advisors who were using competitor platforms. Most didn’t even know Raymond James had an RIA business. “Awareness is not what it needs to be,” Van Law said.

He said he plans to spend the next two to three months talking with advisors about changes, and make those changes in the following three to six months. He said he would look at competitive pricing, technology, and the “seamless integration” of the technology into the advisors’ practices.

Van Law wants to draw more wirehouse advisors to the RIA business. He himself worked at Merrill Lynch for 18 years as a financial advisor, complex director and district sales manager.

He says Raymond James already recruits more high-end advisors from wirehouses than any other firm, though the company won’t provide hard numbers. In recent months, the company has recruited teams from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Wells Fargo Advisors.

At Raymond James the number of $1 million producers at RJFS grew from 84 in 2005 to 142 in 2011, although headcount actually dropped during the time Van Law was there. The company says they focused on quality, not quantity.

Aite Group analyst Alois Pirker says he can see Raymond James performing strongly in the custodian space. Breakaway brokers are looking at different opportunities in the market, and Raymond James covers a broad spectrum: employee advisor, IBD, RIA, bank advisor. “You need to get the tools that the Fidelities and Schwabs have invested in lately, but then again, Raymond James is a firm that services advisors on many different channels, so I don’t think it’s going to be such a big problem for them to put together a tool set that competes,” he said.

As president of the RIA unit, Van Law will report to Chet Helck, chief executive of the Global Private Client Group; the group oversees Raymond James’ employee and IBD divisions as well. Mike DiGirolamo, a managing director who oversaw the RIA unit in the past, will remain there and report to Van Law.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Raymond James' RIA had 100 advisors.

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