In a sign of the changing face of the investment industry, The Investment Management Consulting Association, traditionally a haven for wirehouse brokers, nearly doubled the percentage of members who come from regional broker-dealers in the past year.

The financial advisors at these firms now represent 11.7 % of IMCA’s membership, up from 6.2% last year – a rate of increase that is more robust than the group’s overall growth.

“We were surprised to see increases in the percentage of members from the independent and regional advisory channels,” said Sean Walters, IMCA’s deputy executive director from the group’s Denver, Colo., headquarters.

Another big shift at IMCA is that the percentage of independent advisors within IMCA has grown to 25% of membership, up from less than 20% three years ago.,” according to Walters.

IMCA membership overall grew by 30% between 2006 and 2009, and 10% between January 2008 and October 2009. The association has 7,578 members, of whom 6,000 have earned their Certified Investment Management Analyst professional designation.

IMCA has traditionally been an association for wirehouse brokers, and 60% of its new applications to join in 2009 came from the big four firms [Merrill Lynch, UBS, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney]. But its growing appeal for independents suggests that IMCA’s path may bend in a new direction.

Much of the appeal comes from its conferences, which are the only ones in the industry that focus on investing and wealth management, Walters says.

“Around the time of conferences we see a spike in membership and I think [that trend] is going to increase,” he adds.

About 15% of new members do not seek a professional designation at all. They are joining IMCA merely for the conferences.

Stay abreast

“They want to stay abreast without paying $6,000 to $7,000” for the course of study necessary to earn a CIMA or a Certified Private Wealth Advisor, Walters says. IMCA charges all members a $395 annual fee to maintain their membership.

This is a trend that IMCA is happy to encourage, he adds.

“We used to only market IMCA conferences to members,” he says. “We’d like to make our conferences more of an industry conference.”

In another sign of the growing number of independents within IMCA’s ranks, a majority of the approximately 100 people per year that seek the CPWA designation are independents. The CPWA concentrates on methods like estate planning, charitable planning and managing concentrated stock positions — skills that independent advisors seek. The CIMA is more concerned with training advisors about how to choose the right stable of investment managers for clients.

Further IMCA statistics: Fifty-one percent of IMCA members work for an investment consulting and/or wealth management practice type. These advisors serve a combination of institutional and retail clients, and an additional 11% serve institutional clients only — endowments, foundations, pension funds and the like.

Thirteen percent of IMCA members are fund wholesalers or executives from asset management companies, and 12% describe themselves as financial planners. Nearly 66% of IMCA members’ retail clients have a net worth of more than $1 million.

The average assets under management of IMCA members is $292 million and the average assets under advisement for institutional consultant members is $5.1 billion.