Stephens Inc. Dominates List of Broker-Dealers

Stephens Inc. once again has the most licensed stockbrokers in Arkansas.

With 457 agents, the Little Rock brokerage firm has more registered agents than the No. 2 broker, Edward D. Jones, and No. 3, A.G. Edwards & Sons, combined, according to this year's Arkansas Business list of the state's largest broker-dealers.

Stephens Inc. gained 19 brokers since the last time Arkansas Business published the list, which was in October 2000. The number of each firm's registered representatives in Arkansas were supplied by the firms.

Growth was the rule among the top four broker-dealers, whose combined number of registered brokers jumped 14 percent from 790 in 2000 to 902 this year.

The biggest percentage growth in the state, however, came at Arvest Asset Management of Rogers, which grew 89 percent from 46 to 87 agents. Its 87 brokers were good enough for the No. 6 position on the list, up from No. 9 last year.

Arvest has quadrupled since 1998, when it had 21 agents.

The growth can be attributed to a change in focus from a discount brokerage firm to licensing its trust officers, said Stephanie Cooper, senior vice president for Arvest. Now trust, investment and insurance are all available under one client adviser, she said.

"So we have broadened the horizon there not only for our clients but for our reps that are taking care of them," she said.

But while some companies added agents left and right, others were losing them.

The number of agents at American Express Financial Advisors Inc. tumbled from 135 in 2000 to 77 this year. A spokesman for American Express was unavailable for comment last week.

Morgan Keegan, which is No. 9 on the list, is up by three licensed brokers this year, but in this case, that's actually a significant decline. In March, Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., acquired Memphis-based Morgan Keegan, and Regions Investment Co. Inc. was merged into Morgan Keegan. Last year, Morgan Keegan had 57 brokers in Arkansas and Regions had 28, for a combined total of 85, yet the combined firm now has only 60 brokers.

A Morgan Keegan spokesman was unavailable for comment.

Among the brokers who left after the merger were three vice presidents. Jay Gadberry, who left after 14 years, began working for Morgan Stanley in Little Rock on Nov. 1.

Morgan Keegan also lost Jack Pedigo, who began working as a vice president for Prudential Securities Inc. in Little Rock on Sept. 1. Bob Williams left Morgan Keegan after 17 years, and on June 1 he began working for Delta Trust & Bank's Delta Trust Investments Inc. in Little Rock.

In other deals, in late 2000, Sterne Agee & Leach Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., acquired John R. Taylor Financial Group of Fort Smith for an undisclosed amount of stock. Taylor Financial had seven registered representatives in the state in 2000 and an office in Rogers. John Taylor now serves as a senior vice president with Sterne Agee working out of its Fort Smith office.

In December 2000, AXA Financial Inc. of New York, which had its Arkansas office in Springdale, was bought out by AXA of Paris, France. The international brokerage already owned 60 percent of the company, and it bought the 40 percent that remained publicly held.

Also in December 2000, AXA sold Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette of New York to Credit Suisse First Boston for $12 billion. The deal gave the North American division, which is now doing business as AXA Financial Advisors, access to $60 billion worth of equity compared with $6.3 billion in 1999.

Dropping off this year's list was Vining-Sparks IBG of Memphis, which had an office in Little Rock. Last year, it was ranked 15th with 15 registered reps, but this year it only had 10.