For many advisors, the last 12 months were an endless grind of suspense, speculation, regulatory deadlock, and endless M&A negotiations. But A4A readers who stayed alert found plenty of opportunities in the churn.
I cover industry news daily for A4A and looked back at the top 10 stories I posted about the industry news -- industry stories I wrote that got the most "hits."
The list is below, but just a short preface:
To be clear, the greatest hits of 2011 were Andy's. He took lead -- and continues to take lead -- on the big issues that are shaping the long-term future of the industry, the profession, and every advisor. If you want long-term strategy, inside looks at what's going on in the big trade organizations, and the big picture, he's got more to tell you than I ever will.
On my beat, the stories that interested you were fairly traditional "if it bleeds, it leads" updates: PR embarrassments and other developments that took the competitive wind out of high-profile firms and figures.
And of course, if it was bizarre or surprising, it also got a lot of hits.
10. Securities America Advisors Keep An Eye On The Exits, But Ameriprise Will Probably Step Up. Back in March, a lot of people in the industry press were speculating that Securities America was going to go out of business. Recruiters circled the firm like vultures waiting to pick off appetizing advisors from the "carnage" that never actually materialized. Corporate parent Ameriprise made good on Securities America's legal bills and then found a buyer for the battered brokerage -- arguably the biggest deal of the year.
9. Wells Fargo May Yet Find A Blockbuster Acquisition Target In UBS. Also from March. Rumors that UBS is ready to "dump" its U.S. wealth management unit have been circulating for years, but this may be the last time anyone takes them seriously. Wealth management has become the crown jewel of the otherwise troubled Swiss bank, and with brokerage executives rising in the corporate ranks, it's now vanishingly unlikely that UBS will sell any time soon.
8. Fee-Based Accounts Face Pricing Pressure; Maybe The Move Down-Market Is To Blame? A scary-looking trend story that remains as relevant as it was back in February. Margins are indeed under incredible pressure throughout the industry, but as costs for technology, compliance, and recruiting rise, advisors are still extremely reluctant to raise their fees to compensate. Discounting to win AUM at any cost only makes things worse.
7. More Upheavals For Morgan Stanley's Philadelphia Operation. Scandal for the wirehouse as a highly decorated regional manager left under shadowy circumstances in June. Was this an internecine struggle between Smith Barney veterans and their former Morgan Stanley rivals? Either way, it drove Morgan to adopt a scorched earth approach to Philadelphia, and we should probably take a look at the results.
6. Morgan Stanley Cutting Low-Earning Reps ... While Managers Get Wooed Away. And more trouble for the wirehouse, this time from back in March. A4A readers feel more strongly about Morgan Stanley than any of the other bulge bracket giants, and stories like this that prove that there's trouble in "paradise" are consistently popular.
5. Mary Schapiro Still Committed To Universal Fiduciary Standard, Warns On SEC Funding Issues. The top regulatory story of the year, and arguably a good way to sum up 2011 in general. Everyone in the industry remained glued to the SEC for guidance on exactly who will be considered a fiduciary and which agency will supervise them. Unfortunately, as the year winds down, we still don't know.
4. $376,000 Arbitration Loss Opens Rare Window Into the Ken Fisher "Method." Schadenfreude, pure and simple. Fisher is famous. Many advisors don't like him. His embarrassment back in July made for must-read coverage.
3. HighTower Picks Up A $500 Million Maine Advisory Team From Merrill Lynch. I'd like to say this one was so popular because it's about Maine, where I live. But realistically, you clicked on this one back on February because it was one of the first intimations that "RIA consolidators" like HighTower would become such a force in the industry. Since then, HighTower and its counterparts have recruited many, many advisors away from all channels, and will probably continue to do so in 2012 and beyond.
2. What A Sale Of H.D. Vest Says About The Accounting Channel. Accountants and traditional financial advisors are at best uneasy allies and at worst, pretty savage direct competitors for client loyalty and assets. When Wells Fargo started shopping accounting-driven brokerage unit H.D. Vest around in May, it gave us all a rare look into how accountants structure their advisory relationships.
1. Rock Star Wealth Management Firm Meridian Rock Opens With PR Splash. Everyone wants celebrity clients. Celebrity advisors are pretty popular, too. Combine the two, and you've got the Meridian Rock story -- which, ironically enough, has yet to make a lot of waves in the industry after this March story.
You probably have your own favorites. Keep reading for more end-of-year wrap-up stories, and as always, feel free to sound off in the comments.
Thanks for reading in the meantime. I hope your 2011 has been rewarding and that 2012 is better.