In the post-recession world, traditional brokerage/investment banking firms have become much more interested in the steady income that can come from providing financial advice to individuals. This is partly due to the demise of proprietary trading, partly a new respect for recurring income. But Wall Street is finding it hard to maintain its retail sales forces.
One would think that with the Baby Boom beginning to retire, and having 401ks and IRAs rather than traditional pensions to support them in their “golden” years, there would be a lot of demand from this quarter for professional investment advice. Yet, brokerage firms are finding it hard to recruit salesmen. The demographics of the big (or “full service,” as they’re called) brokerage forces themselves are also telling: lots of over-fifties, few under-thirties. Why is this?
1. The internet has replaced financial services as the destination of choice for ambitious college graduates.
2. Brokerage firms have traditionally been hostile toward women, thereby eliminating half the possible job candidates.
3. Being a financial adviser is–something I kind of get, but kind of don’t–a relatively low status position, down there with used car salesman.
4. People under the age of, say, fifty (maybe it’s sixty, though) would prefer to deal with a discount broker over the internet than face-to-face with a traditional brokerage salesman. I have no short answer as to why, but they do–even when introduced to an honest, competent broker by their parents. Of course, maybe that in itself is the kiss of death.
5. Traditional brokerage firms have decimated their research departments as cost-cutting measures during the recession. This eliminates the only reason I personally would consider a traditional broker.
6. A broker typically gets a little less than half of the commission revenue he generates (see my post on how your broker gets paid for more detail). The rest goes to the firm, which uses part of that to pay for offices, recordkeeping, and marketing… For many years, however, firms like Fidelity, Charles Schwab or other, more low-profile companies have been willing to provide established brokers with back-office support for a small fraction of that amount. I’m not current on today’s arrangements, but while I was working a broker could easily increase his “net” commission from 45% to 80% by switching to one of these firms. Yes, he might have to provide his own office, but the headline is that he could increase his income by 78% with the move.
What’s new about this situation isn’t that it’s happening–this has been going on for well over a decade–but that traditional brokers are finally concerned. Their retail business model is broken, however, and I don’t see it getting fixed any time soon. My question is how Baby Boomers are going to get the financial advice they need to manager their money during retirement.