Colin Barr

Following the money in banking, economics, and Washington

LPL Financial IPO outpaces GM

November 18, 2010: 2:06 PM ET

As scorching as the GM IPO is, it may not even be the hottest one on Wall Street today.

That honor looks likely to go instead to LPL Financial (LPLA), a Boston-based brokerage service whose initial public offering was priced Wednesday evening at $30 a share. Insiders led by LPL management and private equity backers Hellman & Friedman and TPG stand to rake in more than $450 million in the deal, which is raising no new funds for the company.

Spiky

Nonetheless LPL's debut is being snapped up eagerly by investors. Shares of LPL were up 8% at midafternoon Wednesday at $32 and change, compared with a 6% rise in the much bigger GM (GM) IPO.

LPL's appeal is that it gives investors a way to participate in a long overdue Wall Street makeover. The company provides technology, research and financial services to 12,000 independent financial advisers in small and midsize shops around the country, "enabling them to successfully service their retail investors with unbiased, conflict-free financial advice," the company says.

Conflicts have been a bit of an issue on Wall Street in recent years, with Goldman Sachs (GS) for instance paying $550 million this year to settle a regulatory probe of its bubble-era debt dealings. Goldman led the underwriting for the LPL deal.

Goldman conceded in this summer's settlement that it had erred in failing to disclose conflicts of interest to clients who bought deals it arranged, and in recent weeks it has come to light that both JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Citigroup (C) are under scrutiny for similar issues.

With the press rife with stories of bankers pushing deals on clients largely for the sake of drumming up fees, the appeal of the independent adviser has been growing, LPL says in its IPO prospectus.

It says its broker clientele has grown at a 13% compound annual rate over the past decade, as the financial industry has shaken out and wealthy individuals and brokers alike have started to question the upside of dealing with the biggest banks.

We believe there are several key factors driving the growth of the independent channels. Investors in the mass affluent market, and increasingly in the high net worth market, are seeking unbiased, conflict-free advice. The number of advisors electing to leave the large financial institutions to become independent financial advisors has accelerated over the last several years in part because of the ongoing consolidation among the captive platforms, particularly among the wirehouses. Finally, many advisors have entrepreneurial aspirations and are attracted to the flexibility, control and compelling economics inherent in the independent financial advisor model.

LPL appears to be a solid company, and its debut prompts Barron's to conjecture about the prospect of consolidation among the smaller brokers. But the economics of Thursday's IPO will be especially compelling for the company's top executives.

CEO Mark Casady and operating chief Esther Stearns each plan to sell at least half their stake in the company in the offering, potentially raking in $93 million together. Two other top execs will also sell large stakes, netting $12 million between them, Dow Jones notes.

This serves as a timely reminder that no matter how a company might present itself,  no investment is completely conflict free.

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About This Author
Colin Barr
Colin Barr
Senior Writer, Fortune

Colin Barr has covered finance for Fortune.com since November 2007. Previously he was a writer and editor for TheStreet.com, winning a 2006 Society of American Business Editors and Writers award for "The Five Dumbest Things on Wall Street," and for Dow Jones Newswires. He is a 1991 graduate of Penn State and lives in Port Washington, N.Y., with his wife Meena Bose and their two kids.

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