Wells Fargo unit taps independent broker movement

Mon Apr 11, 2011 8:45am EDT

* Wells independent broker unit sees 85-100 new affiliates

* FiNet president sees demand for "independence with help"

By Joseph A. Giannone

NEW YORK, April 11 (Reuters) - Wells Fargo Advisors Financial Network, a unit supporting nearly 1,000 self-employed brokers, expects to add 85 to 100 affiliates this year as more big-firm advisers seek independence -- with help.

FiNet, like other custodians and independent brokerage firms, allows Wall Street advisers to go out on their own but still get access to the operations management, investment selection and business development help of the big firms.

"We're a do-it-yourself society," said FiNet President John Peluso. "But they also don't want to be all alone."

Without acquisitions, FiNet in the past 10 years has swelled in size, first as part of Wachovia Securities and since 2008 as a unit of Wells Fargo Advisors, the third-largest U.S. brokerage.

Peluso said the business last year added 83 affiliates -- either individual brokers or teams -- on top of 100 that joined in 2009. It currently has about 985 advisers in some 500 practices managing more than $43 billion in client assets.

FiNet boosted revenue 38 percent last year, fueled by growth of the network and growth generated by existing offices.

Industry studies have shown that independent brokers and investment advisers have gained significant market share from the big traditional Wall Street banks in the past decade. Independent brokers typically keep 85 to 90 percent of the fees and commissions they generate, though they pay their own rent, trading costs and other business expenses.

That said, there are dozens of independent broker networks, including industry leaders like LPL Financial (LPLA.O) and Raymond James Financial (RJF.N).

Prying brokers away from the big firms is usually easier said than done.

"There's a lot of inertia, a lot of multimillion-dollar practices in the national wirehouses and other firms, and they just don't move," Peluso told Reuters on the sidelines of a SIFMA brokerage industry conference.

"Wirehouse" refers to big Wall Street banks such as Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo Advisors that employ brokers. They traditionally provide a wealth of services and keep a bigger portion of the broker's fees and commissions.

Peluso earlier this year reorganized FiNet management and named Craig Avery to lead a new "innovation and growth" team, Avery is charged with driving revenue growth by, among other things, simplifying the going-independent process and encouraging sales of Wells Fargo banking and credit services. (Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone; editing by John Wallace)

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