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A new giant in the independent broker-dealer space has taken over as the most capitalized firm in the industry.

The combined net capital available to the 10 IBDs with the highest liquidity reserves jumped 37% to $385.3 million over the past three years, according to firms submitting data as part of Financial Planning’s 33rd annual FP50 survey.

The new leader has emerged out of a group including MassMutual’s MML Investors Services, LPL Financial, Raymond James Financial Services and Commonwealth Financial Network. LPL boasted the highest net capital in 2016 at $116.2 million, but this year’s No. 1 had $20 million more at the end of last year.

Two major IBD networks ― Advisor Group and Cetera Financial Group ― did not disclose their total net capital as part of the survey, but Ladenburg Thalmann said it had net capital of $37.2 million from its five IBD subsidiaries. The top 10 list only includes individual firms providing their own data, though.

The metric provides a view, albeit a clouded one, into the firms’ futures, according to Carolyn Armitage, a managing director at investment bank and M&A consulting firm Echelon Partners.

“They are preparing their reserves for what comes next, whether that’s the potential softening of the economy or an acquisition,” Armitage says of IBD firms with the highest net capital figures.

“Some of the firms don’t have to publicly disclose it or may not want to for a variety of reasons, whether it’s a defensive or offensive move, depending on what they’re preparing for,” she adds. “It’s challenging to predict what the reserves mean, because it could be a variety of potential outcomes.”

M&A deals have certainly represented a common outcome in the past year. MassMutual purchased MetLife’s Premier Client Group for $165 million in a transition completed in March 2017. Last August, LPL acquired the assets of National Planning Holdings’ four IBDs for $325 million.

Advisor Group has already unveiled two major acquisitions so far this year, snapping up Capital One Investing’s in-branch brokerage unit and announcing an agreement to purchase John Hancock’s Signator Investors. The firms didn’t disclose the terms of the deals.

Three out of the network’s four IBD subsidiaries made the top 10 in net capital in last year’s survey. Experts have also identified Advisor Group’s private equity backer, Lightyear Capital, as a top contender to purchase Cetera if the firm goes up for sale.

Advisors at such well-capitalized firms should take comfort in their firm’s stability amid the rising M&A momentum of recent years, Armitage says.

At the same time, however, she points out that firms must ensure any potential future acquisitions are “balanced with reinvesting that capital for growth initiatives” for their advisors.

To view the top 10 firms ranked by their net capital, click through the slideshow. For the top 25 IBDs by their 2017 revenue, click here. And to see a recap of 2017 and trends shaping the future of the IBD space, see FP50 2018: Independent broker-dealers adapt to survive.


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