December is traditionally a fairly quiet month in the wirehouse recruiting world, as advisors slow down for the holidays and FINRA shuts its doors for the last two weeks of the month making firm switching difficult, according to industry recruiters.

But last December brought a surprise uptick in advisor movement after months of little action. According to Discovery Database, 425 wirehouse advisors changed firms in December, up from only 177 in November and 361 in October. Indeed, December saw the biggest number of wirehouse advisor movement since August 2009 when 434 advisors changed firms.

Industry recruiters expressed surprise at the latest numbers as most said the end of the year had been very quiet. “I don’t think these are big (producing) brokers. They’re mostly smaller guys in the $400,000 to $700,000 (trailing-12 production) range going to regionals, independents and boutiques,” Rick Peterson, a Houston-based recruiter, said. (Read more on this at: "Forefront Hops on the Breakaway Broker Bandwagon")

Indeed, only 38% of wirehouse advisors who changed firms in December stayed within the wirehouse channel. This is a sharp decrease from the midst of the crisis in January 2009 when 1165 wirehouse advisors changed firms and 86% stayed within the wirehouse channel. Many of these deals were done before bigger producers were tied down by retention packages.

Last month, 16% of wirehouse advisors who switched firms went to an independent firm, 13% went to a bank and 11% went to a regional firm. “The big firms are getting rid of the smaller guys that drag down their average (production per advisor),” Peterson said.

Still, California-based recruiter Bill Willis expects to see an increase in movement among bigger producers early this year as the bigger Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Merrill Lynch deals encourage firm switching.

“Advisors wait for year-end statements to be finalized and also take advantage of the Martin Luther King three-day weekend to make a move,” Wills said.