Former Merrill Regional Head Dickson Joins Small Indianapolis Firm
Just over a year after losing his job as one of Merrill Lynch Wealth’s ten regional managers in a restructuring, James R. Dickson has ambitious plans to help regional brokerage firm David A. Noyes thrive by attracting independent-minded brokers.
Dickson, who spent his entire brokerage career at Merrill from 1997 until April 2017, has joined Indianapolis-based Noyes as president, with a particular remit of recruiting into its new independent-broker dealer division, Sanctuary Wealth Partners, he said in an interview on Friday.
Noyes’ traditional brokerage operation employs 70 advisors, well below the 2,500 brokers Dickson said he oversaw in his last post as head of Merrill’s Greater Midwest market. But he turned down offers from other wirehouses and larger regional firms for the opportunity to put his imprimatur on an employee-owned organization that he joined as a partner, he said.
“At the end of the day, the chance to be an owner and the chance to build something was my calling,” Dickson said. “The quasi-independent space is really where the puck is headed.”
Given his background with the Thundering Herd, he believes he can attract primarily fee-based brokers who generate $1 million or more in annual fees. That’s a lofty target for broker-dealers who work with salesforces of independent contractors who generally produce less revenue than brokers that are full-fledged employees of a firm.
Sanctuary, however, is something of a hybrid. It plans to give brokers more organizational support, and slightly lower payouts, than the typical independent firm. The model is comparable to Wells Fargo’s “Profit Formula” channel, in which brokers receive payouts of around 70% to 80% of their revenue as opposed to 85-90% at many independent firms, DIckson said.
Sanctuary’s first brokers will be the team of brothers Chris and Brian Cooke, who are shifting from Noyes’ employee broker-dealer unit, which they joined in 2016 after working under the Profit Formula umbrella at Wells. The Cookes oversee around $1.7 billion in assets, according to a news release from Noyes.
Dickson’s shift is the second in a month of a former senior wirehouse manager to the independent space, at a time when some veterans are decrying what they say are commoditization and constraints at large bank-owned broker-dealers.
“The independent advisor channel is where things are going right now,” Doug Ketterer, a 27-year Morgan Stanley veteran, said in an interview last month after joining independent broker-dealer Cadaret Grant as chief executive. Ketterer had at various times run Morgan Stanley’s overall brokerage force and its high-net-worth unit.
Dickson declined to outline particular growth goals for Sanctuary, but said he’ll be using a combination of equity in Noyes, higher payouts, and modest upfront signing bonuses to lure high-end brokers.
“We can give advisors a lot of those things the big companies provided but at the same time give autonomy,” he said.
Dickson said he considered former Merrill Lynch Wealth head John Thiel as one of his mentors. Thiel stepped aside to assume a vice chairman role at Merrill at the end of 2016, and was replaced by Andy Sieg.
Sieg reorganized Merrill’s field leadership, reducing ten regions to six, and promulgating the exit of Dickson and several other veterans.
Dickson won’t be immediately calling on his former colleagues because of non-solicitation agreements that remain in effect for several months. But he said he will certainly be promoting the cultural differences between small firms and wirehouses.
“You have to be restrictive when you have 15,000 advisors,” he said, citing the need of the big firms to often manage to the lowest common denominator. “When you have your own firm, you can make different investments and different decisions.”