Sometimes you'll hear financial advisors at wirehouses brag about how they built their businesses in a superhuman way. They love to tell war stories about how they walked 10 miles through three feet of snow in a blizzard with no shoes to secure their biggest client. If you speak with an average 20-year veteran, he might tell you stories about how much cold-calling he did during his first 10 years in the business. And as with most good stories, they get better—that is, more embellished—with time. The result? Wirehouse advisors tend to feel they're at the top of the food chain and sometimes look down at their bank-based brethren. They feel that while they must hunt for their clients, bank-based advisors are simply handed all of their clients.
In fact, if you are a manager at a bank-based firm, you don't escape this scorn either. If you don't think they look down on you, too, well, then good luck getting hired at a wirehouse down the road.
But as we all learned a long time ago, there are always two sides to every story (and usually some missing details as well).
The question here becomes: Do wirehouse advisors really work that much harder to grow their practices?
Before I got into career coaching and executive search, I spent 20 years in the brokerage business both as a top quintile producer and manager. And I worked in most of the models: wirehouse, regional, bank and full-service discount firm. I have heard all the stories and when I was a rookie broker, I believed most of them. Over the years, though, some things did not add up.
I would hear advisors talk about how they grew their entire book by themselves, but I rarely observed them prospecting or marketing. After hearing hundreds of these stories, I started asking more questions and doing more research. When I got into management, one of my responsibilities was to hand out accounts when brokers left the firm. So I observed first-hand how many millions of dollars in assets are simply given to advisors in the office. I realized that over the course of many years this can really add up to a nice client base.
When an advisor changes firms they obviously try to take their books. Just how much they take will depend on what model they come from and the strength of their relationships.
If they are at a wirehouse, regional or independent firm they will typically take between 60% and 80% of their books. If they are at a bank the number drops to between 30% and 60%. In either case, there are a lot of assets up for grabs for the advisors left behind. At a branch that I managed for one of the wirehouses, at least half of the advisors inherited half of their books. And in a few cases, 70% of the assets were inherited.
In a bank-based model, the assets are not always handed out. In many cases the assets stay with the branch and are used for recruiting new advisors. In either case, wirehouse and bank-based advisors are inheriting a lot of assets.
The knock against banks that wirehouses will be quick to mention—that the advisors get "warm leads"—is true. People walk through the door all the time to do their banking business, but the advisor still has to close them, which is no easy task.
A wirehouse doesn't get those kinds of leads, but they do indeed inherit more assets than they care to admit when they're in bragging mode.
Most individuals would tend to think advisors are good marketers, and that's how they grow their businesses. But I would suggest that only 10% to 20% of advisors are rainmakers. Most advisors work hard to bring in assets in the first three years of production. But then they stop because it's tough. Sure, there are some advisors who really know how to market themselves, but they're in the minority.
There are a dozen ways for an advisor to grow a book: cold-call, hire cold-callers, cold walk, network, conduct seminars, public speaking, referral marketing, advertising, buy someone's book, teach a class, inherit assets or work at a discount firm that gives you clients. But most advisors use very few of these methods and may tell you these methods don't work. In fact, if you ask an average advisor what they do to market themselves, they will tell you that they grow via referrals. But frankly, most don't even do that right.
I have found that most wirehouse advisors have relatively low growth rates—they mostly keep up with the growth of the market. But advisors in all models could spend more time implementing a marketing strategy.
At the end of the day, all advisors inherit assets—some more than others. Whether you are at a wirehouse, regional or bank-based firm, you will inherit assets. The biggest difference is that those at wirehouses never like to acknowledge how much they have inherited.
To be sure, there are good and bad advisors in all models. Everyone wants to put a positive spin on their situation. But in the end, all advisors are trying to grow their assets—most just need to execute better.
Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of the Rummage Group, which helps financial professionals discover new career opportunities. For more information, go to therummagegroup.com.