$22-Million Merrill Lynch Team in Boston Splits for First Republic
Merrill Lynch boasted Monday that attrition of its seasoned brokers is at an all-time low, but one of its most venerable and strongest producers tested the proposition on Friday.
James Atwood, a Boston broker whose 15-person team produced more than $22 million last year and oversaw some $4.5 billion of customer assets, led the group to First Republic Private Wealth Management, a San Francisco-based bank that Merrill once owned.
Atwood, who ranked second on Barron’s 2017 list of top Massachusetts advisors, did not return a request for comment on his decision to leave the only firm where he has worked in his 34-year brokerage career.
His move was confirmed by a broker in Merrill’s Boston office and by several recruiters and competitors who spoke on condition of anonymity but who independently affirmed the team’s production numbers.
A Merrill spokeswoman did not return a request for comment. Gregory McGauley, Northeast region head of Merrill’s Private Banking and Investment Group, declined to comment.
First Republic has been aggressively recruiting large teams, offering all-in signing packages that at the top level can reach 300% of the fees and commissions senior advisers collected from clients in the previous 12 months. Merrill has been a top recruiting target.
Like rivals Morgan Stanley and UBS Wealth Americas, Merrill Lynch has cut its recruiting budget in the past two years, making the firms more reliant on keeping top brokers in place. Unlike its rivals, however, Merrill remains in the Protocol for Broker Recruiting. That opens it to poaching since brokers who move among the pact’s members can take customer-contact information with them without fear of being sued.
First Republic’s chief financial officer told analysts in January that its recruiting pipeline from wirehouse remained strong. The bank, which has about 150 private wealth advisors in more than 70 U.S. locations, was purchased by Merrill in September 2007 for $1.8 billion but sold to a group of investors two years later after Bank of America purchased the brokerage firm.
Attrition among Merrill Lynch’s 14,820 brokers fell to an all-time low of just over 2% annualized in this year’s first quarter, people close to the company said on Monday when Bank of America reported first-quarter earnings.
However, First Republic, whose West Coast recruiting head Brian Riley was a longtime PBIG executive, has bedeviled it. In January, it recruited a PBIG team jointly based in San Francisco and Connecticut that produced around $11 million.
Atwood’s team, which includes his brother, Jeffrey, who has been with Merrill since 1997, has six advisors and nine associates and analysts. The other advisors are Brendan J. York, Mclane F. Cover, Julie Rousseau Shank and Zachary Calahan, according to their former Merrill website.
While most of First Republic’s recruiting efforts have been on the West Coast and New York, Boston has been on its radar. In March, the bank hired veteran Beantown brokers Bill Grinnell and Darin Souza, who had around $1.5 million in annual revenue, from Wells Fargo Advisors. Last November, it picked up a J.P. Morgan Securities team in the city who had $3 million in production.