An increasing number of wirehouse advisors are showing greater interest in bank brokerage programs. The primary appeal, of course, is easier access to prospects. However, the culture in a bank is certainly different than your standard wirehouse branch, and the question becomes, which is best for you?

To be sure, bank programs were not held in the highest esteem in the past. They were seen as places where those who did not succeed at mainstream firms went to finish their careers. 

During this era, bank brokerage programs were often all about annuity and mutual fund sales. Platforms were often limited and advisor/client relationships tended not to run deep.

But in recent years, many bank programs have evolved into powerhouses that appeal to prominent producers and wealthy clients. Further, they offer a growth environment not found elsewhere.

Indeed, now that products and services have been largely commoditized, banks and their clearing firms are able to offer the same lineup as their wirehouse cousins. This allows bank advisors to focus on more than just CDs and annuities.

Fully armed, they are able to offer planning and holistic, fee-based services.  As such, they compete for successful wirehouse advisors and affluent clients.

And while having the right tools is essential, access to a potential client base is still a game-changer. For most advisors, building a book of business is essentially a two-step process: One must constantly wage marketing campaigns to connect with qualified prospects, and then work to convert prospects to clients. Most advisors I have worked with over the years find the marketing process challenging. In fact many of their businesses have stopped growing or failed because advisors de-emphasize marketing at some point and rely exclusively on referrals. It’s understandable. Marketing is time-consuming, expensive, and to many, simply unpleasant. On the other hand, most advisors enjoy working with qualified prospects and are generally confident that they can close their fair share.

If an advisor is associated with the right bank, the marketing is mostly built-in and they are afforded a steady flow of qualified prospects. The bank becomes their marketing machine.

Successful bank advisors receive referrals that are more than prospects because they are already clients of the institution. As such, most of them trust and rely on the bank for advice and the advisor is inheriting this set of emotions.

While this is an advantage over the typical wirehouse situation, it also presents a unique challenge. While the bank referral may already have a level of trust, the advisor must work hard to establish trust with their banking teammates to ensure referral flow in the first place.

Successful bank advisors have taken the proper steps to become trusted members of their bank team. They treat their colleagues with respect regardless of pay grade. They participate in all branch activities. They not only receive referrals but refer their clients when appropriate.

From tellers to branch managers, bank employees tend to care deeply about their clients. As such, they are reluctant to refer to an advisor they don’t trust. Bankers might be encouraged by management to refer the advisor their clients, but without trust those introductions will be few and far between.

Generally speaking, advisors with big egos and type-A personalities fail, whereas down to earth, team players succeed. Often, it is just the opposite in the wirehouse world.

Banks also tend to be more structured environments. Bank advisors are usually expected to be on the job for specific hours each day. You are required to be present to help clients as needed. Banks have relatively heavy client foot traffic, and one needs to be ready to receive a referral or client on demand. If you like to prospect on the golf course or only like to be at the office during market hours, the bank is probably not for you.

Those who run a largely transactional business are probably not a good fit. The bank culture is more conservative and less open to the perceived risk of individual stocks. Being labeled a stock picker will probably not enhance your image with teammates, thus hurting lead flow. If you are considering a move to a bank program, keep in mind the best transitional packages are typically less than wirehouse deals. If your primary goal is to monetize, the banks are probably not for you.

However, if you are more interested in growing your business, then affiliating with a quality bank program might be your best path. Most financial advisors who move to a bank program often find that their business increases in the first year and almost always by the second. If you can bring most of your book and then be referred a steady flow of qualified prospects, growth is inevitable.

If you transfer to a wirehouse, you should not expect the firm to help you grow. In fact, most wirehouses do not even expect you to grow in the first years. A number of firms pay bonuses to recruited advisors whose businesses return to their original on-board numbers at the end of year three. If growth is not an issue, you may be best served to stay at a wirehouse, but those who need help growing should consider a bank program.

As you imagine, advisors who leave bank programs generally transfer a lower percentage of clients. Bank clients, who might have three or four different relationships with the firm, tend to be sticky.

Clients with lending relationship are particularly loyal to the institution. The reality is that you will receive a lot of clients that will be relatively easy to get but hard to take. If you are a conservative person and team player who does not mind a more structured environment, then your personality is right for the bank brokerage culture. If growing your business is more important than receiving the largest transitional package, then I would encourage you to explore the bank brokerage space.

Bill Willis is founder and president of Willis Consulting, a financial services recruiting firm. To learn more about his firm, visit


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