Brokerage bombshell: What advisors, investors could expect from a Schwab-TD Ameritrade merger

Pedestrians pass in front of a Charles Schwab bank branch in downtown Chicago, Illinois.

Christopher Dilts | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Financial advisors who hold their clients’ assets at TD Ameritrade are about to face a shake-up.

Charles Schwab is in talks to purchase TD Ameritrade for $25 billion, and a deal could be announced as early as Thursday, a source told CNBC.

The merger would combine approximately $3.8 trillion in assets from Schwab and $1.3 trillion from TD Ameritrade and create a massive custodian in an industry that already provides less choice for registered investment advisors or RIAs.

Not only do these firms hold assets for registered investment advisors and execute trades, they also provide firms with technology to simplify their workflow and allow advisors to focus on financial planning.

Clients are likely to stand pat with their financial advisor, even amid a change in custodians, industry experts say.

That’s because RIAs generally have so-called negative consent provisions in their paperwork when they take on new clients, meaning if the firm changes a service provider, the client has agreed to go along.

“I might change custodians if I think it’s the best thing for you, and by signing this you are agreeing that you will go, unless you opt out,” said Danny Sarch, founder and owner of Leitner Sarch Consultants.

Nevertheless, a client who is content with the service he or she receives will likely stay put.

“The  client is generally loyal to the advisor, as long as the advisor keeps the client front of mind as he makes a decision,” Sarch said.

In the RIA world, there are four custodians that make up the lion’s share of that market: Fidelity, Pershing, Charles Schwab and TD Ameritrade.

Fidelity, Pershing and Schwab alone administer 74% of client assets in the correspondent clearing and RIA custody holdings, according to data from Aite Group.

TD’s specialty has been on the small RIA market, centering on firms with fewer than $100 million in assets under management, Sarch said.

“Pershing ignores that space, but Fidelity, Schwab and TD have traditionally competed,” he said.

Advisors have raised concerns about the prospect of less competition in the custody area.

“What does it mean for costs for advisors like me and for our end clients?” asked Daniel Tobias, a certified financial planner with Passport Wealth Management in Cornelius, North Carolina. His firm handles custody of client assets with TD.

“Or what if the service goes down, we have fewer options and we’re that much more captive?” Tobias asked.

If Schwab follows through on the merger, it will take time for the effect to migrate to retail clients.

Officials at Schwab and TD Ameritrade did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

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