Alex David: Generating New Growth at Stifel Independent Advisors

Wells Fargo FiNet Veteran Brings Extensive Experience in Leading Multiple Functions Necessary for Driving Recruiting and Organic Growth

Michael Madden,
Contributing Editor & Research Analyst

In March this year, Stifel Financial Corp, the full-service brokerage and investment banking group, decided to accelerate the growth of its independent financial advisor business, selecting industry veteran Alex David to lead this effort.

Previously known as Century Securities, Stifel Independent Advisors became the new brand of the firm in the spring of this year, when David was appointed its new CEO.

He was a logical choice in more ways than one.  With 28 years of industry experience, David spent the last 12 years of his career at Wells Fargo FiNet, the independent financial advisor business within Wells Fargo, most recently serving as Head of Branch Development.

In this role, David was responsible for all revenue growth – including recruiting, advisory, and organic growth – as well as financial advisor retention and marketing.

Not only does he have expertise in overseeing multiple key functions independent firms rely on to thrive, David also brings senior leadership experience at an independent channel business within an organization that has a large employee advisor platform – Making him an especially strong fit for the helm of Stifel Independent Advisors.

At the time of his appointment as CEO of Stifel Independent Advisors, the firm’s total financial advisor headcount was 87, with total assets of approximately $3.7 billion.

But with scale increasingly central for driving accelerated expansion, the potential for growing Stifel Independent Advisors is substantial, looking at the total numbers for Stifel Financial Corp:  As of the end of last year, the entire company had 2,280 financial advisors (including both W2 and independent contractor professionals) and over $357 billion in client assets.

With David in his new position for a little past one quarter, Wealth Solutions Report connected with him to see how things are going in this new chapter of his professional life, what his plans are for Stifel Independent Advisors and why financial advisors should join forces with the firm.

WSR:  What were you proudest of achieving during your tenure at Wells Fargo FiNet, and why?

I had the profound pleasure of leading a small group of seasoned professionals that in my tenure brought in more than $83 billion in net new assets. 

In addition, I am proud of recruiting FiNet’s largest FA and Wells Fargo’s second largest in its entire history. 

But the highest honor I have had has been promoting more than 70% of my team to higher levels of responsibilities, thus assisting in their career progression and development.

WSR:  There’s been considerable talk around the pros and cons of broker-dealer / RIA firms expanding to support both employee and independent financial advisors.  What are the advantages to independent financial advisors in joining forces with a firm that has a well-established employee channel?

In the independent space, scale is critical – scale of technology, products, services, platform, capital, and back-office support.  Many RIAs and Independent BDs unfortunately suffer from the lack of one or more of these items, thus limiting their ability to help their advisors truly maximize growth and help clients succeed financially. 

At Stifel Independent Advisors, we don’t stress about those items because we enjoy both the resource leverage from our parent, Stifel Financial Corp, as well as the autonomy to operate the company in a thoughtful way that creates true value for our advisors.

To be clear, access to broad resources AND the freedom to run the independent side of the shop is extraordinarily rare. Most independent firms have the freedom to operate but severely lack resources. 

Others have resources but very little opportunity to truly operate “independently.” Ostensibly, they are independent from the W2 broker-dealer in name only. At Stifel Independent Advisors, we truly enjoy the best of both worlds – vast resources and autonomy. 

WSR:  Describe your sweet spot advisor recruits:  What do their businesses look like, what are their growth goals and how is Stifel Independent Advisors the best possible partner to their businesses?

The overriding characteristic of our “sweet spot” advisor is one who is fully committed to growing their practice by utilizing a full array of products and services – ranging from conventional products like mutual funds to more sophisticated offerings like alternative investments, structured notes, and syndicate. 

That’s what we bring to the table – in a seamless, contiguous envelope on their desktop.

Regarding candidates, we have found success in two specific groups:  Financial advisors joining from the full-service W2 firms.  And wealth advisors who are already independent but need broader access to the items mentioned above. 

Both of these types of advisors fit like a glove into our model, and our support staff take great care in helping them land and grow their practices.

Regarding our growth goals, we have one mandate – Grow the business one quality advisor at a time. That’s not just a mantra, it’s a core value we live by every day. 

This means we are very patient in performing deep dive due diligence to provide a bespoke transition package, while assisting FAs with their customized growth and practice management plans. 

WSR:  Now that you’ve been in the top job at Stifel Independent Advisors for over a quarter now, what has worked out as expected, and what surprises, if any, have you experienced?

When I joined the firm, I assumed we’d need to change the name to embrace Stifel’s strong brand and build up the support platform. Well, the Stifel Independent Advisors team already delivers high-touch service, so I’ve just been hiring and hosting Home Office visits. 

The greatest surprise is we are already gaining commitments from FAs to move this fall. I simply did not expect wins so quickly. It’s quite humbling.

WSR:  The recruiting wars for high quality financial advisors continue to intensify, but all too frequently, the transition process continues to be a choppy experience for the financial advisor who chooses to switch firms.  What do you and the team at Stifel Independent Advisors plan to put in place to make your transition experience as smooth and seamless as possible for financial advisors?

Stifel already has a world-class transition team that provides “boots on the ground” service for transitioning advisors. So, of course, we plan to leverage this critical resource. 

In addition, we’ve hired a Director of Transitions for our independent financial advisors, and have engaged an outside strategic partner that, at our cost, will help them stand up their companies…from paperclips to real estate. Lastly, we have capital ready to provide a very competitive transition package.

Alex David, Stifel Independent Advisors

So those four components – an existing transition team, a specialized Independent Transition Director, an experienced strategic partner, and very competitive capital – make for one of the most compelling offerings in the independent space. Simply stated, we’re playing to win!

WSR:  If you had to listen to just one song on repeat for the duration of an entire 6-hour, cross-country flight, what would it be, and why?

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen – my all-time favorite song…deep, emotional, fun, powerful, and inspiring! 

I always have a million thoughts that cross my mind when I listen to it…I can play it for 10 hours!

Michael Madden, Contributing Editor & Research Analyst, can be reached via email at mmadden@wealthsolutionsreport.com 

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