Unlocking Real Value Blog

The Future of the Wirehouses – and its Advisors

There’s been a lot of talk over the past few years over what the future holds for the wirehouses – Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo, etc. If the future is indeed as negative as many believe, what are the implications for advisors?

A recent report by Cerulli Associates, Inc. indicates that these firms will lose 7% more market share over the next three years; today their market share is 41.4%, and they are expected by Cerulli to lose market share more quickly than other segments (such as RIAs).

Here’s an interesting, yet often overlooked, part of the equation. While no one disputes that the wirehouses are losing advisors to RIAs and regional brokerage firms, a large percentage of this market share loss has occurred at the lower end – the wirehouses have been shedding these advisors both by choice (in order to increase profit margins) and to competitors.

The Cerulli report does not split the losses between these groups. The conclusion that these losses are a large negative for the wirehouses is conjecture at best in my opinion. While I believe that the wirehouses are losing some top producers, the situation is not as dire as many have concluded from this and other studies.

At the end of the day, there are certain advisors who will flourish at wirehouses and others who are more suited for either smaller brokerage firms or independent firms (which they either join or start). The case can be made that products and services offered to advisors might actually improve at the wirehouses as they’re able to focus on a core group of higher end advisors and their needs.

Whether an advisor flourishes or not depends mostly on his/her personality. Becoming an RIA is akin to becoming a business owner or partner, which would take some personality types out of their element. Likewise, some personality types will flourish under the freedom that is gained by leaving the restraints of the heavily compliance-oriented, less entrepreneur brokerage firms.

Neither type of firm is going away. An advisors ultimate success is less dependent on what type of firm they work for, and more dependent on them working in the type of firm that best suites their personality and skill set.

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