Can LPL Financial get the advisor recruits it needs to stay competitive as the nation's largest independent broker-dealer?

Bill Morrissey, LPL's chief recruiter, argues that the IBD is well positioned to capitalize from the new Department of Labor fiduciary rule. For one, the rule is expected to accelerate consolidation and push advisors to new homes.

"The DoL rule is going to force advisors to take a really hard look at their broker-dealer and decide if they will be a long-term partner," Morrissey says. LPL's ability to provide the tools, platform and service to comply with the rule will be a major recruiting advantage, he argues.

But it may not be enough, say executive search firm executives.

"Thoughtful advisors have many more options now," says Danny Sarch, president of Leitner Sarch Consultants. "Everyone is considering going independent and there is more competition than ever before. Advisors can play LPL and its competitors against each other to bid for their services, so it's a much more challenging [recruiting] environment."

WHAT ADVISORS ARE LOOKING FOR

"We measure success by our ability to increase asset capture and gross profits," says Bill Morrissey, president of LPL's business development division.
"We measure success by our ability to increase asset capture and gross profits," says Bill Morrissey, president of LPL's business development division.

And while LPL touts its size and scale as a plus, the company's heft can also work against it, maintains Howard Diamond, managing director for Diamond Consultants.

"I think that LPL will continue to have challenges with their advisor recruiting this upcoming year," Diamond says.

"LPL advisors who we are speaking with are looking for a more independent and entrepreneurial experience. They would be more inclined to look into the RIA space where they would not be as limited and have the overarching oversight that comes with an LPL."

STAGNANT ADVISOR GROWTH

Indeed, LPL's advisor growth was stagnant last year.

The IBD had 14,054 advisors at the end of the year, a gain of only 18 advisors over 2014.

Previously, the firm had set — and often achieved — annual goals of adding over 300 net new advisors annually. In a research report earlier this year, UBS analyst Alex Kramm noted last year's sluggish activity: "Underlying growth metrics were unimpressive, as advisor growth and client assets missed expectations and net adviseor growth slowed," Kramm wrote.

But 2015 was the firm's third-best recruiting year on record, based on adding advisors that produce greater revenue, Morrissey, an LPL managing director, points out. And there was a recruiting uptick in the first quarter of 2016, as LPL added 39 new advisors.

What's more, a more stable industry environment should result in further advisor recruiting gains for the second half of the year, Morrissey predicts.

Steadier financial markets, decisive signals from the Fed and the release of the DoL rule should serve as a "catalyst" to boost what has to date been tepid advisor movement, Morrissey says.

ASSETS VS. ADVISORS

But Morrissey also contends that net advisor growth is no longer as important a metric as net new assets or net new advisor assets. "We want to tell the story differently," Morrissey says.

Slideshow
IBDs with the richest accounts
These firms reported the highest share of accounts topping $100,000.

Client assets are more important than having a certain number of advisors, says Bill Butterfield, senior analyst for Aite Group. "But the margins are quite thin in the IBD space, and to grow revenues you either need more advisors or the existing advisors need to bring on new client assets," he notes.

Sarch agrees.

"Morrissey is right and wrong," he says. "Yes, a firm is ultimately judged by net new assets. But you can't grow new assets successfully without significant recruiting growth. Are they going to get that kind of asset growth from existing advisors bringing in twice as many assets? Good luck with that."

In a mature, fragmented industry with a shrinking pool of advisors, Morrissey argues that LPL's considerable resources will give the company a significant advantage in a highly competitive market.

"We think we can be the destination of choice by being more efficient and offering the kind of expertise in technology, operations, compliance and training that advisors couldn't get locally," Morrissey says.

TRANSITION INCENTIVES

Advisors can also be persuaded to join an IBD by cash incentives, especially capital for transition support.
LPL provides advisors and firms with money to cover "fixed and variable costs of financially making a change," Morrissey says, based on the volume of business, the mix of the business, the number of accounts and expenses.

Transition assistance is typically not the focal point for a bidding war among competing IBDs, according to Morrissey. Most firms are within "a couple of hundred basis points of each other" on offers, he maintains.

But transition deals, especially for larger producing advisors, are negotiable, Diamond notes.

"The larger the team and the more the firm wants that team dictates how negotiable the firm will be," he says. "They could also offer other inducements to the advisor such as paying all ACAT fees and paying for firm-wide conference attendance for the first year or so. We have also seen firms offering enhanced 'boots on the ground' transition teams that come to the advisors' office for a certain period of time after they join the new firm."

MERITS OF SIZE

The choice often comes down to LPL's massive size, which can be a double-edged sword, Morrissey and outsiders agree. "We hear about size, absolutely," Morrissey says. "People were saying it was too big when I joined 12 years ago and we had 5,000 advisors. Our job is to shrink the company for the advisor. The paradox is that it's only through size and scale that we can deliver the personal service experience that advisors want."

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Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert

Charles Paikert is a senior editor at Financial Planning. Follow him on Twitter at @paikert.