We’ve noticed that LPL’s board of directors has been putting a lot of trust lately in some of chairman and CEO Mark Casady’s longest-serving, highest-flying lieutenants.

When the San Diego-based independent broker-dealer announced this week plans to reorganize some of its senior executives around a new subsidiary, LPL New Venture, observers figured a succession plan was in the offing. This blogger already thought something was cooking when, in January, LPL Financial announced plans to buy Fortigent and said it planned to allow the unit to operate with autonomy under the direction of CFO Robert Moore. Robert Moore is now president and COO, and will manage to hold down the CFO job too, while the company searches for a new one.

New Venture is like the Fortigent arrangement in that LPL Financial is rewarding a longtime, clearly valued executive with executive autonomy. Esther Stearns, the longtime president and chief operating officer of LPL Financial is the new CEO of the LPL New Venture unit.

We also noticed that LPL put Bill Dwyer, its president of national sales, in charge of its sponsor relations function.

“Esther may have been needing to be a CEO, so this may give her some sought-out autonomy, I don’t know,” says Chip Roame, managing partner of Tiburon Strategic Advisors, in Tiburon, Calif. “Robert earns a role equivalent to that of Bill Dwyer and [this] may be putting them in a two-man race to replace Casady eventually.”

That freestanding autonomy might set up New Venture to acquire other businesses, says Roame, including, perhaps an online wealth management business. A digital wealth management business might actually be the best profitable option for delivering valuable financial planning services to mass-market Americans, he says.

“I do believe that we will see more innovation in how to service smaller clients in the future,” according to Alois Pirker, a research director at Boston-based Aite Gorup. “They don’t get enough attention from advisors that have a fully built book, nor are they profitable relationships in the short-term.”

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