B-Ds Brace for Change

Terry Flanagan

Broker-dealers are preparing for a potentially difficult year as investor confidence remains low.

Agency only broker-dealer Investment Technology Group will be refreshing its brand after 25 years in operation, a move that it says reflects the changes the company has gone through.

“It was our 25th anniversary, so it was a great time for reflection on who we were going forward,” said Lorelei Skillman, managing director at ITG. “Our branding wasn’t reflecting what we were as a company.”

Agency-only broker ITG has made substantial moves to boost its research services in recent years. In 2010, it acquired Majestic Research and in mid-2011, it added Ross Smith Energy Group, a Calgary oil and gas research provider.

“Over the last few years, we’ve transformed into a new ITG and we wanted to reflect that,” said Skillman. “We’re much more than execution only, we’re also a research broker.”

The move comes during a period of difficulty for broker-dealers, as trading volume has been drying up and competition has been on the rise. According to Finra, the amount of total registered broker-dealers has dropped about 10 percent in the past five years, from 5,029 in 2006 to 4,456 as of the end of 2011. A majority of the downed brokers have been a result of the overall decline in equity trading volume, leading to tighter profit margins for many.

New York broker-dealer Ticonderoga Securities is the latest of these, having on Tuesday announced that it would be shutting down after an attempt to acquire financing fell through, according to reports.

With the difficult macroeconomic environment presenting a slew of challenges for broker-dealers, some have taken the opportunity as an avenue for growth. One of the largest holding companies for independent broker-dealers, Cetera Financial Group, has been snatching up smaller competitors in recent months, including those that have been closing up shop. Cetera acquired Genworth Financial Investment Services, which is the broker-dealer subsidiary of Genworth Financial, an insurance provider. The deal was valued at $78.5 million and is expected to close by April.

Cetera unit Multi-Financial Securities recently entered an agreement with Pacific West Financial Group to bring over a group of advisors from Pacific West, to effectuate a “seamless transition for clients. Pacific West had announced that it was discontinuing its operations as a result of declining margins in the independent broker-dealer space.

Earlier in the month, Susquehanna Financial Group let go 15% of its cash equities staff as the firm struggled with low market volumes. WJB Capital Group, another agency broker, also shut down because of financial difficulties.

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