Raymond James’ RIA head Bill Van Law is exiting the firm, leaving a major vacancy at the No. 3 independent broker-dealer at a time of heightened recruiting fights for hybrid practices.

Van Law will depart the St. Petersburg, Florida-based firm on April 2 “to pursue other personal and professional interests," Raymond James announced this week. The nature of the separation from his firm of 15 years was not immediately clear, and the firm declined to make him available for an interview.

Raymond James did say, however, that the firm has started a search for the next president of its Investment Advisors Division. The company tapped Van Law for the post in 2012, when he said the biggest issue was that many people didn’t know Raymond James was serious about the RIA business.

Raymond James headcount

The firm, which has an IBD and an employee brokerage in its Private Client Group, saw strong recruiting of independent advisors in the fourth quarter and a record headcount of 7,537 advisors. Independent advisors make up about 60% of the total, or 4,499 advisors, but only a portion of them have outside RIAs.

IBDs have been ramping up their hybrid RIA channels in recent years as the strong momentum in the independence movement yields tough recruiting competition. For example, rival LPL Financial’s hybrid unit spans some 420 RIAs with about 5,200 advisors and $113 billion in outside advisory assets.

Van Law’s exit is very surprising because of his success in building the hybrid channel at Raymond James, says recruiter Mark Elzweig. “It’s a very important channel because many of the best advisors in the business aspire to set up hybrid RIA practices," he says.

“When people go independent, there’s especially intense interest in the hybrid channels, and it’s from some of the most sophisticated and high-end advisors in the business,” Elzweig continues. “This is definitely a channel that firms are looking to really grow right now. So it’s a key role.”

A Raymond James spokeswoman says the firm doesn’t disclose the exact figures on its hybrid RIAs, and the firm declined to comment on Van Law’s departure beyond prepared statements included in the March 20 press release.

Prior to leading the Investment Advisors Division, Van Law served as the IBD’s national director of business development and the director of the employee channel’s Mid States Division. He worked for Merrill Lynch for 18 years before he came to Raymond James.

“It’s been a privilege to work within Raymond James’ unique, client-first culture since joining in 2003,” Van Law said in a statement. “I am looking forward to time with my family before pursuing the next chapter in my life and career.”

Raymond James CEO Paul Reilly praised Van Law’s service to the firm’s Private Client Group, as well as his philanthropic efforts in support of organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the St. Petersburg Free Clinic.

“Bill has had significant impact on our PCG businesses, including the growth and success of the Investment Advisors Division,” Reilly said. “We are grateful for his many contributions and wish him well with his future endeavors.”