Who wins when advisors leave wirehouses? Just about everyone.

According to Tiburon Strategic Advisors’ new research, the four wirehouses have shed almost 8,000 advisors over the past three years, or 13% of their sales forces. According to the Tiburon report, “Wirehouse and regional broker-dealer brokers changing firms are primarily unsuccessful financial advisors who are terminated.”

Does this mean that the wirehouses will become leaner, with a higher percentage of successful producers, while independent firms load up with unsuccessful advisors? “Tiburon has been cautioning for several years that the breakaway broker trend was overstated and/or misunderstood,” Chip Roame, the firm’s managing partner, said in an interview. “Most advisors who leave the wirehouses are fired. There are some high-end breakaways, but firms like HighTower (which we consider hugely successful) have recruited 50 to 100 reps, not thousands. The wirehouses have been trimming their low-end producers.”

After saying that, Roame said that the independent channel can make money with less productive financial advisors due to its different economic structure.

“The advisor takes the majority of the financial risk,” he said, “not the firm. The breakaway trend, albeit muted in size, is terrific for the receivers, which are the independent broker-dealers and the custodians.”

The Tiburon report also indicated that almost two-thirds of advisors do not communicate with their clients on a regular basis, yet ultra-high-net-worth investors mention responsiveness, financial advice, and proactiveness as the most important advisor-client service factors.

“Client communications (‘touches’) will remain the number one reason clients are sticky,” Roame said. “Investment performance will come and go; indexers will follow the market, both up and down; active managers will win sometimes and lose other times. However, firms that communicate with their clients, touching them 10 to 20 or more times per year, will have high relative retention rates.”

On the product side, Tiburon reports that active equity mutual funds have realized over one trillion dollars of outflows since 2008 while fixed income mutual funds have realized over one trillion dollars of inflows since 2009. Consequently, the mix of consumers’ holdings of mutual funds has shifted to over half bonds and money market funds.

 “This movement from stocks to fixed income is a combination of short- and long-term trends,” Roame said. “Many investors were caught with too much exposure to equities and suffered greatly in 2008-2009. Many of these same investors have been slow to re-enter the equities market and missed out on gains from 2010-2013.”

The longer-term trend, according to Roame, is that Baby Boomers will keep aging.

“The median Baby Boomer age moved from 52 to 58 between 2007 and 2013,” he said, “so this trend, no matter what part was a short-term reaction to movement in the markets, is likely here to stay.”

Roame added that investors have poured money into fixed income while yields have been low, so dollars may continue to move in that direction when interest rates turn up.

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