Booted by Merrill, Chicago PBIG Broker Opens Dynasty-Backed RIA
Bruce K. Lee, a former top-ranked broker at Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group in Chicago before his termination in April over allegations that he falsely attested to completing mandatory compliance training modules, has put up his shingle as a registered investment adviser.
The 31-year industry veteran, who oversaw $2.4 billion in assets and generated $8 million in revenue in his last 12 months at Merrill, said Tuesday that he is operating as Keebeck Wealth Management. Keebeck, his given name in Korean, means “to ascend” in that language.
Joining him as chief operating officer and partner is Joseph Polakoff, who was a sales manager and lifelong Merrill employee before leaving his PBIG post in Chicago last month.
Like many veterans of traditional broker-dealers who venture into independence, Lee said he looks forward to shedding some of the restrictions and bureaucracy that big firms impose to meet regulatory and strategic priorities.
“Being independent is a way to offer broader services and products for clients who demand a more customized approach,” said Lee, 55, who joined Merrill in October 2011 and who has also worked at Credit Suisse Securities, Morgan Stanley, UBS, Bear, Stearns and Lehman Brothers.
“Most of my clients are ultra-high net worth clients and they recognize that ‘alpha’ or other large-producing opportunities don’t necessarily come from the large cap [firms].”
He said he hopes to continue working with many of the ultra-wealthy accounts in his PBIG book, which he estimated at 40 to 45 household accounts. “I have a proprietary network of my own, with product possibilities, some generated by my families,” he said of the clients.
A spokesman at Merrill declined to comment.
Merrill fired Lee on April 18 over “conduct” issues that led to a “loss of management confidence,” including the allegations about failing to complete mandatory training, according to his BrokerCheck report. Well-placed sources said at the time that his temperament was an issue for some members of his five-person team, which included the daughter of former Merrill executive Phil Sieg (who is also the niece of Merrill Lynch Wealth head Andy Sieg).
“I’m saddened by some of the events that occurred, but excited about launching my new firm,” Lee said, declining to discuss specifics. “It’s hard to get mad at an old girlfriend if you found a better one who is nicer and better looking.”
Keebeck has contracted with Dynasty Financial Partners, the New York-based service provider, for product support and operational and marketing services, Lee said. Dynasty also provided a loan and discounts on trading technology, according to Keebeck’s initial ADV regulatory filing.
None of his former team has joined him at the new firm, which in addition to Polakoff includes four support staffers, he said. The firm, which will be structured as a family office, is using Bank of New York Mellon’s Pershing Advisor Solutions as custodian. Lee has relinquished his brokerage license but plans to renew it through an independent firm, he said.
While Lee’s departure from Merrill does not appear to have been voluntary, the firm regrets the loss of two other large PBIG teams this year, said people familiar with the Bank of America-owned firm. The five-broker, New York-based Bodner Sax Group that was overseeing more than $4 billion of customer money left en masse last month to form its own RIA. In April, a team led by James Atwood left PBIG in Boston to join First Republic Private Wealth Management. They had been managing about $4.5 billion of customer money.