Cetera Financial Group was born Monday as ING Groep NV announced its sale of ING Advisors to New York’s Lightyear Capital, ahead of the opening of Euronext Amsterdam.

Lightyear, a private equity firm that invests only in financial services companies and run by industry veteran Don Marron, announced its intention to buy ING Advisors, which consists of three channel-specific broker-dealers Financial Network, Primevest and Multi-Financial, in November. Marron bought ING Advisors for an undisclosed sum. The combined broker-dealers manage some $75 billion in assets.

The combined entity, which kept ING Advisors CEO Valerie Brown at the helm, currently has 4,841 advisors across all three channels units. (Financial Network has 2,417 advisors; Primevest has 1,448 advisors; Multi-Financial has 980).That’s a far cry from the 5,700 advisors listed in other reports of the sale, but the reduction in reps is due in part to ING Advisors’ winding down of its relationship with TD Ameritrade over the past 36 months.

It also has to do with a redefinition of who counts as an advisor, Marron said at a meeting at Lightyear headquarters Monday. “There were more people registered than were actually selling,” he said.

The firm picked the name Cetera, which is Latin for “the others,” in order to “embody the idea of putting others first,” Brown says.

Both Brown and Marron have aggressive goals for Cetera, and are shooting for “double-digit” growth in advisor headcount at each of the three units. While ING Advisors’ value proposition was somewhat limited by uncertainty as to what would actually happen to it prior to the sale, Marron’s reputation, plus his financial help bolstering Cetera’s technology, compliance and product platforms, should help recruiting this year.

Brown said the new Cetera brand won’t overshadow Financial Network, Primevest or Multi-Financial, which serve small regional investment firms, financial institutions and independent advisors, respectively. (Financial Network also services some banks, but financial institutions don’t make up a significant portion of its business).

Since each will retain its flavor, advisors get to choose which specific channel best fits their business model, an ability to specialize that Brown hopes will draw advisors to the Cetera family.

Product-wise, Cetera plans to make it easier for advisors to choose whether they want to pay fees or commissions for the investments they buy. A so-called hybrid model, which will make available comparable fee and commission-based products across all channels, should also prove attractive to both advisors and banks looking for a new broker-dealer, Brown says.

Marron says he bought Cetera partly because of its focus on the mass affluent market, which wirehouses usually overlook in favor of high-net-worth prospects.

He says the recent financial crisis was effectively the first 401(k) crash, affecting 60 million Americans who now are charged with acting as their own money managers. This demographic is desperate for both professional advice and the technology necessary to provide them with the depth of information they now feel they need to make investment decisions.

Marron said that exchange-traded-funds, hedge funds and a new breed of annuities will all play an important part in helping mass-affluent investors shape their own retirements.

“The average 401(k) will grow rapidly over the next five to seven years, and baby boomers are rethinking what they need the money for, so they’re going to seek top-down advice,” he says, both in international and domestic equities and fixed income markets.

Marron says Lightyear has no plans to spin off Cetera or take it public anytime soon. While Marron concedes that private-equity firms’ modus operandi is to buy companies and flip them for profit within five years, Cetera “is a good long-term business and we don’t feel committed to any outcome right now,” he says.


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