Wirehouses in Transition, FRC Reports

Wirehouses are changing the way they work with investors, advisers, and asset managers in an effort to win back some of the market share they’ve lost to regional brokers and registered investment advisers (RIAs).  

The Financial Research Group (FRC) found that wirehouses have been implementing several transformative initiatives after the credit crisis of 2008-2009 hurt their market share. Its report, “Re-Evaluating the Wirehouse Opportunity: Gatekeeper, Asset Manager, and Advisor Insights,” was based on interviews with decision-makers at Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, UBS, and Wells Fargo.

“Conventional thinking has been bearish on the wirehouse industry, since they have been battered by bankruptcies and bailouts,” said Robert Martorana, author of the FRC study. “But the outlook is brightening, as the wirehouses are reinventing their adviser strategies and portfolio construction to gain a bigger slice of the wealth management business.”

FRC found several action plans unfolding at the wirehouses, including revising advisers’ roles, increasing the emphasis placed on risk control and portfolio management, and using new approaches to build their customer base.   

As for the role of advisers, Martorana told PLANADVISER that it’s becoming less of an advisory or consultancy position, and more of a portfolio management role, or “rep as PM.” He found that the lines are blurring somewhat between advisers, portfolio managers, asset managers, and wealth managers. The four big firms are moving advisers towards a fiduciary standard as well, he said.

The report also found significant opportunities for asset managers in product distribution through the wirehouse channel. However, FRC believes because the competitive models being employed by wirehouses are changing, asset managers need to develop a thorough understanding of the current goals and shifting needs of the wirehouses in order to increase their chances of success through this channel.

The wirehouse firms in aggregate control $4.6 trillion in assets under management, according to the report. "It's a big mistake to underestimate the wirehouses. They have strong brands, wide access to product providers, and substantial resources for investment research. As these firms reconfigure their value propositions, they are going to surprise product providers with their ability to gather assets,” Martorana added.