For some firms, brokerage-hiring protocol no longer holds value

A handful of firms are pulling out as they shun recruiting from wirehouses

Aug 3, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

By Dan Jamieson

Broker-dealers, advisers
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Citigroup Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and UBS Financial Services Inc. founded the pact in 2004. (Bloomberg)

Although the brokerage industry's recruitment protocol continues to gain new members, some advisory firms are pulling out because they're not recruiting from the wirehouses.

As of the end of July, the agreement has 839 members.

The voluntary pact permits individual advisers to take basic customer contact information when they move from one protocol signatory to another.

The agreement is credited with averting many disputes about non-compete agreements.

Citigroup Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. and UBS Financial Services Inc. founded the pact in 2004.

In 2009, following the worst of the financial crisis, a record 278 firms signed on. Many were start-up firms breaking away from wirehouses. Others were existing firms expecting to pick up refugees from the big broker-dealers.

The pace of adoption has since slowed, however.

This year, through July 31, 100 new firms joined. Last year, 162 signed up, off from the 182 new signatories in 2010.

Meanwhile, a handful of firms are pulling out of the pact.

Notably, Buckingham Asset Management LLC, Focus Financial Partners LLC and Sigma Investment Counselors Inc. all pulled out last months.

"We're focusing on the RIA space, so we just didn't see a need or value in being part of it," said Adam Birenbaum, chief executive of Buckingham Asset Management.

The firm, which advises on about $16 billion in assets, has brought on five new advisers or firms in the past 18 months.

Buckingham signed the pact in late 2009.

"There were a huge number of brokers who wanted to have a conversation" about joining Buckingham at that time, Mr. Birenbaum said, but inertia and big retention packages kept them from moving.

"In 40 years in the business, we never hired someone who had worked before as a broker," said Robert Bilkie, president of Sigma Investment Counselors.

Sigma signed the pact in 2010, but has since established new non-compete agreements for its employees and didn't want the recruitment protocol superseding those agreements, he said.

Focus Financial, the aggregator firm, saw no need to remain in the pact since all of its partner firms make their own determinations about joining the protocol, said managing director Rich Gill.

Through July, six firms have withdrawn from the pact this year. Last year, 12 pulled out.

Since the protocol's founding, only five other firms have withdrawn.

djamieson@investmentnews.com

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