By the time David Pickler decided to leave LPL Financial last year, the top-ranked producer for the independent broker dealer decided he would be open about his reasons for going.

So at an elite advisor conference last year, the founder of Pickler Wealth Advisors says he found a moment to tell LPL's CEO Mark Casady about the problems he'd been experiencing -- and to say that he was likely to leave.

"We are going to have someone talk to you about that," Pickler recalls Casady – who declined to comment for this story – as saying.

Other LPL executives gave him similar responses, but little follow-up and none that made a difference, he says.

'THEY KICKED THE CAN'

"They kicked the can down the train," he adds, which, in Pickler's view, is consistent with the "slow erosion" in service he says he seen since LPL went public in late 2010.

"After spending 20 years in the wirehouse environment," says Pickler who worked for Paine Webber and UBS before going independent, "when I joined LPL back in 2005. I really felt like I had died and gone to heaven. This was a firm that was invested in its community, that really cared about advisors, that really walked the walk. They constantly looked at making that advisor experience the best."

No longer, he says. In particular, he cites LPL's technology offerings as "disappointing." He also says LPL failed to support his firm sufficiently in its commitment to providing holistic financial planning to its clients.

The firm declined to comment on any of Pickler's assertions.

In recent years, the country's largest independent broker-dealer has struggled with compliance problems and paid a string multi-million-dollar fines to regulators. It has also seen a steady departure of top executives.

'THE HEART OF LPL'

The list includes LPL's former President Esther Stearns; Jim Dwyer, the firm's former president of national sales and Derek Bruton, its former managing director of independent advisor services, among others.

"People like Bill Dwyer, Derek Bruton, Esther Stearns, they understood the founding principles that [LPL cofounder] Todd Robinson and the original founders [promoted]. They understood the ethical values for which the firm was managed," Pickler says. "When they left, they took not only the energy, their drive, their passion for the advisor, but they also took a bit of the heart of LPL as well."

At Commonwealth, Pickler says he expects to have the kind of advisor-centric culture he once enjoyed at LPL, along with top technology offerings and no public markets to please.

Pickler Wealth manages about $250 million of its clients' assets out of its offices in Collierville, Tenn. He was named this year to the Financial Times 400 Top Financial Advisors list and has been cited by Barron’s as among the top advisors in the state of Tennessee.

His partner in the firm, Teresa Bailey, who at age 32 represents the firm's next generation (he is 57), calls their decision to move to Commonwealth, a "20- to 30-year decision," in reference to her hope that the firm will have a generation-long affiliation with its new IBD.

ACTIVIST INVESTOR ARRIVES

Long after Pickler decided to leave, he learned that activist investor Richard "Mick" McGuire, and his hedge fund, Marcato Capital Management, had purchased more than a 6% stake in LPL in August. McGuire has a track record of seeking to replace sitting CEOs of firms that he thinks are underperforming.

LPL's stock debuted at $32 five years ago and dropped from $56 in March back down to $40 this week.

With McGuire in the mix, LPL "may very well have to look at policies that would increase shareholder value, but maybe not that of the advisors," Pickler says.

"I'd say," he adds, "that was a ratification that we made the right choice."

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