Raymond James Joins Inter-Brokerage Hiring Pact

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The New York Sun

Raymond James & Associates has joined the inter-brokerage pact set up by several major Wall Street firms that makes it easier for financial advisors to defect without fear of being sued.

The retail brokerage unit of Raymond James Financial Inc. (RJF) joined the pact July 31, said Dennis Zank, president of Raymond James & Associates.

The move makes the St. Petersburg, Florida-based company the first major regional brokerage firm to join the protocol set up more than a year ago by Merrill Lynch & Co.(MER), Citigroup Inc.(C) unit Smith Barney and UBS AG (UBS).

Under the agreement, firms can allow their brokers to leave with client information so they can ask customers whether they wish to transfer accounts to the new firm. Brokers, however, must leave behind account details.

The protocol also requires companies to transfer account data within a day of receiving a one-page authorization from a broker’s client.

“It simply more clearly defines the acceptable way to move from one firm to another,” said Mr. Zank. “As long as you follow those procedures, it makes transitions much cleaner.”

Other signatories to the accord include Wachovia Securities, a unit of Wachovia Corp. (WB); SunTrust Capital Markets in Atlanta; Stephens Group Inc. in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Still-Point Advisors, also in Atlanta.

The Advest Group joined the pact, as well, prior to Merrill Lynch’s acquisition of the Hartford company.

The agreement diffuses the usual tactic of most firms to file a temporary restraining order that would prevent defecting brokers from reaching their clients.

For years, companies have rushed to court for TROs aimed at buying more time for firms to solicit clients of departing brokers.

James Eccleston, who heads the securities law practice group at Shaheen, Novoselsky, Staat, Filipowski & Eccleston, said firms usually spend at least $25,000 per case to shoulder lawyers’ fees alone to file a TRO.

Prosecuting companies would usually target departing financial advisors with a sizable amount of client assets and would reason out that the customers belong to the firm, not the brokers.

“The clients should be able to decide where they want to go,”said Bill Willis, an executive recruiter who deals with financial services firms. He added that under a TRO, clients stand to lose most because “they are left without much of a choice.”

In recent months, Piper Jaffray Cos. (PJC) filed a TRO against some of its defecting brokers, particularly those who switched to Merrill Lynch in Wayzata, Minnesota, and to Raymond James in Minneapolis.

A spokesman at Piper Jaffray’s retail brokerage unit, which is now part of UBS Wealth Management USA, declined to comment on the suits.

“We understand that these financial advisors made independent decisions to look at other opportunities and that Merrill Lynch was the best fit they saw,” said Mark Herr, a Merrill Lynch spokesman.

Mr. Zank didn’t comment on the Piper Jaffray TROs, but a person familiar with the case against Gregg and Mark Mekler in Minneapolis said the suit has been dissolved.

Raymond James has hired approximately 142 experienced brokers from rival firms as of July, and less than 10% of them have been slapped with a TRO by former employees, said Mr. Zank.He believes that brokers, and not the firm, have the primary point of contact with the client. So if brokers leave and have met their financial obligations with the company, he added, there’s no need to file a restrictive action.

“(The TRO) seems to be the modus operandi of a lot of the bigger firms,” said Mr. Zank. “It’s a futile exercise.”

The New York Sun

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