Hilliard Lyons joins Broker Protocol even as others eye the exit

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Regional firm Hilliard Lyons signed on to the Broker Protocol, potentially breathing new life into the troubled industrywide accord.

“Hilliard Lyons has always operated its business in line with the Broker Protocol’s principles. We decided it was finally time to overtly align ourselves with it,” President Tom Kessinger III said in a statement.

The move comes more than three months after Morgan Stanley and UBS exited the agreement, sparking speculation that the 2004 pact could unravel because of their size (the two firms have about 15,000 and 6,800 advisors, respectively). Citigroup followed their lead in January.

Hilliard Lyons, which formally joined the Broker Protocol last week, has 376 wealth advisors, according to a spokesman.

Joining the accord may send a positive statement to brokers at the firm and elsewhere, says recruiter Elizabeth McCourt.

“I think it puts some meat on their words,” she says.

The protocol permits advisors switching employers to take basic client contact information with them. It was originally an agreement just between wirehouses, but has grown to include more than 1,700 firms. In recent years, the wirehouses have lost increasing numbers of brokers to regional and independent firms.

Morgan Stanley, which left the protocol in late November, explained its departure by saying it had become rife with loopholes that other firms were exploiting. UBS left in December.

Though some industry insiders anticipated more firms would follow suit, few have done so. Leaders at Raymond James, Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo have said that they would remain in the protocol, saying it was good for advisors and clients.

However, some recruiters say that could change if exiting the protocol proves beneficial for the departing firms.

“At the end of the year, if Morgan Stanley and UBS’s attrition numbers are dramatically down, then I’d be surprised if Merrill and maybe Wells Fargo didn’t join them,” says recruiter Danny Sarch.

Hilliard Lyons is based in Louisville, Kentucky, and was founded in 1854. The firm currently has more than 70 branch offices, according to the company.

The firm has not been traditionally known for recruiting.

“I think that if their intent is to recruit people, then it makes sense to be in the protocol,” Sarch says.

Hilliard Lyons hasn't been in a recruiting mode for some time, according to headhunter Rob Blevins.

"They’re one of those Southern regional firms. Not a ton of advisors, but a great culture and good leadership," Blevins says. "Some of those guys might be close to retiring now."

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Broker Protocol Recruiting Regional BDs Wirehouses Hilliard Lyons