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List’s Three Financial Firms All See Revenue Growth

Companies in the investment world have been largely in a hunker-down mode in recent years, but some local broker dealers have enjoyed decent growth as they expand their client base.

The three firms that made the list of Largest Private Companies all reported improved revenue last year, yet two of the three showed above average growth trends.

The other one, also the largest, was basically flat.

First Allied Securities Inc., the largest brokerage on the list, saw its revenue increase last year by only 3 percent to $248 million, ranking it No. 7 in its first appearance.

The two other entries enjoyed double digit revenue growth. Independent Financial Group LLC with $62.5 million in revenue was up by 37 percent over revenue it had in 2010, and ranked No. 27.

Cuso Financial Services LP grew its revenue last year by 10 percent to $99 million to rank it at No. 19, down from 17th place in last year’s list.

Valerie Seyfert, chief executive at CFS, said her firm, which provides broker-dealer services to credit unions, is increasing its revenue by both gaining new credit union clients and helping its existing clients grow.

‘Steady Pattern of Growth’

“We’ve kept up a steady pattern of growth over the last 15 years,” said Seyfert, who co-founded the business with Amy Beattie in 1997.

Last year, CFS added 30 credit unions to its client list.

Through September it added another 20 credit unions, including Pentagon Federal Credit Union, with more than $15 billion in total assets and 1.1 million members, most of whom are affiliated with the U.S. military and the Defense Department.

It already had Navy Federal CU, the world’s largest with about $50 billion in assets, and more than 4 million members in its stable.

“We’ve actually had our heaviest growth (in new credit unions) in the Midwest, in states like Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, but we’ve also added in the west and east coast,” Seyfert said.

In tandem with the increased clients, CFS saw its total employment increase to nearly 200 people from about 160 last year.

To accommodate its expanding staff, CFS recently leased out a larger office space in Scripps Ranch that nearly doubles its size to about 30,000 square feet.

Credit unions as well as banks commonly use contracted broker dealers to help their customers make investment decisions but must clearly disclose that these investments are not protected by federal deposit insurance and can result in losses.

Air of Uncertainty Prevails

And while the stock market has generally done well this year (the Standard & Poor’s 500 index is up nearly 14 percent for the year as of press time), an air of uncertainty and skittishness prevails among many investors, according to several investment firm sources.

“Although we’ve had a fairly substantial rebound (in the stock market), investors and even advisors remain cautious about entering the market,” said Bob Holcomb, chief marketing officer for First Allied Securities. “Of the assets that went to sidelines after the financial crisis only about a fifth of it has come back.”

First Allied’s clients are the many independent financial advisors and financial planners that use FAS as their brokerage to make and sell investments.

It now has about 900 such clients, similar to what it had last year, Holcomb said.

Decent August

FAS had a decent August, and did better on the recruiting of new clients, but those additions won’t necessarily translate to higher revenue right off the bat, says Holcomb.

All in all, the uncertain economy means people are less prone to investing and likely continue looking at ways to cut back on spending, Holcomb said.

“It’s really that folks are cautious,” he said.

Coupled with this sentiment is the fact that so many boomer-aged workers are moving toward their retirement years, and will generally be more risk-adverse in their investment choices, he said.

FAS total employment was about 350 at its four offices, with the largest group of 176 at its downtown San Diego headquarters.

It also has offices in Walnut Creek, Scottsdale, Ariz. and St. Louis, Mo. Holcomb says the company should be at 366 employees by the end of this year.

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