So much for Dry January. It has been big news and continuation on a larger theme that top advisory teams, including Merrill Lynch lifers, are bleeding out of the firm for greener horizons at the start of the New Year. Of the 5 major moves, the first started with a bang with a monster team exit;
- $17M/ $5 Billion, 26-person team led by Jeffrey Towner, David Lund, Brett Howell, and Craig Sharp in Grand Rapids, Michigan transition to Rockefeller Capital. Most of the top advisors on the team had spent over 25 years at Merrill, a team size that Merrill executives had said would be too big to move. Not so. The team is #43 on Forbes’ list for Best in State. A brand-new office has been designed exclusively for the team to create Axiom Partners at Rockefeller..
Roger Gershman of The Gershman Group, who specializes in transitions of Merrill advisors teams who knows well of their search said, “the book of business was complicated and diversified with 401(k)s and stock option financing, though it became clear that Rockefeller could handle the business given their sophisticated open architecture platform.” Gershman went on to note that the team considered many options from UBS to Raymond James to independence, no stone was left unturned.” Rockefeller, led by Greg Fleming, ex-President of Morgan Stanley, along with Brett Thelander, who ran ML PBIG Chicago, understands the issues and concerns of large discriminating UHNW teams at ML, offering a full suite of family offices services, trusts, estate planning, and tax optimization.
This didn’t complete the story of big moves out of Merrill since 3 more sizeable teams managing a combined $4billion in assets also departed the firm on the same day, and another Chicago area team on the 19th:
- New York City based GKB & Associates manages nearly $2 billion in client assets and is led by Merrill lifers Joseph J. Guarneri, Steven E. Kabot and Stefani Bollag Masry left for UBS.
- Also in New York City, Maria L. Brisbane and her junior partner Alex L. Zachary, who managed $1.5 billion in client assets, left Merrill for Morgan Stanley Private Wealth Management.
- One of the first teams to go Indie in ‘24, this Merrill team managed $420 million in client assets left to form their own RIA in Birmingham, Alabama. Taylor Hart, Margaret “Mimi” Dunn and Amy C. Drinkard are calling their new firm Steadmont Advisors. Of note, the team sold a portion of revenue private equity to Dynasty Financial Partners to help finance their move. Dunn remarked that they had searched for years for the right fit and that ultimately, they felt the RIA space would allow them to do best by their clients, and that they could also offer appropriate fee structures other than Merrill allowed.
- John “Jack” Hammond III, Susan A. Bush and Brian M. Fay departed the following week for UBS Private Wealth. The Northbrook, Illinois team managed $1.6 billion. Roger of The Gershman Group said ,” I counseled this team as well in their search for Independence but in the end it seemed the best fit was a private banking platform like UBS.
Though Merrill executives continue to state that broker attrition is at 4%, the assets under management departing the firm seem to indicate this is a larger portion of the wealth management business than the firm wants to admit. When advisors feel comfortable to speak, they state that the driving force behind a move is wanting to do best for their clients, REG BI or not. Banks that put pressure on certain products may not be putting client interests first, such as with deposits and FDIC insurance for example. Other reasons include wanting to leave the heavy-handed compliance and operations of the firm, lack of boutique options, and the need for autonomy to run the business in the best way possible. The trend out of Merrill should continue throughout 2024 as many pundits believe that within five years, a large number of advisors will continue to move to firms dedicated to the old ML model boutiques or independent RIAs. Surveys and research confirms these trends.