Merrill Broker in Atlanta Launches RIA, Managers Step Down in Minnesota, Florida
(Updates in sixth and seventh paragraphs with comment from Robson.)
A Merrill Lynch broker who has spent his 25-year career with the firm in Atlanta has joined the growing shift to independence, resigning on Friday to form a registered investment advisory firm with the help of Dynasty Financial Partners.
Craig Robson, who first registered as a representative in 1994 with Merrill, had been managing $450 million in client assets at Merrill when he left to launch Regent Peak Wealth Advisors, Dynasty said in a news release. Robson generated about $3.5 million in annual fees and commissions for Merrill in the past 12 months, said a spokeswoman at Dynasty.
The move continues a slow migration out of wirehouses at a time when Merrill, Morgan Stanley and UBS Financial Services have slashed their recruiting budgets and are focusing on bolstering retention of experienced advisors while deploying junior advisors to work with younger clients. Merrill, which is moving Bank of America salaried brokers to some full-service brokerage branches, is also searching for branch managers in several key locations to replace others who have retired or stepped down to manage their own practices.
Robson, who has a focus on helping corporate executives manage their stock plans, was joined by four associates at his new venture. Kevin Manning and Nathan Hoyt, who were his investment analysts will be full-fledged advisors at Regent, while Carmen Laster and Emily Raymond will continue as client service associates.
The advisors will focus mostly on fee-based business but will maintain brokerage licenses with Purshe Kaplan Sterling Investments to collect commission trails. They will direct their fee-account clients to use Charles Schwab & Co. as custodian for their assets.
Robson, who is the sole owner of Regent, said in an interview that the team had been planning a move for about three years. He said he moved in part because some of the financial planning technology, such as MoneyGuidePro and eMoney Advisor, offered more features than he had at Merrill and also that being independent would allow him more flexibility to customize pricing.
“We do a lot of deep, granular planning for executives and business owners,” he said. “What was missing was better, more sophisticated technology from a planning perspective.”
Dynasty, which offers a menu of transition and operational services on a contract basis to brokers moving toward independence, last week made headlines by assisting a Morgan Stanley team in Dallas that was managing $6 billion in assets shift to an RIA.
Separately, Mark W. Cassidy—a Merrill broker in New York City with nine years of experience—left on Friday to join the U.S. wealth arm of Britsh firm Laidlaw & Company, according to Laidlaw Asset Management chief executive Ken Mathieson. He had been managing $32 million in client assets, according to a Merrill spokeswoman.
Laidlaw employs around 100 advisors in the U.S. and London, who are mostly transactional, but wants to expand by hiring more financial planning specialists such as Cassady who generate more stable fee-based accounts, Mathieson said. The firm offers a cross-the-board 50% payout to brokers, he said.
Separately, Merrill continues to play chess with its managers at a time when their traditional role as talent recruiters has been shifting.
Matthew N. Liebman, a two-decade Merrill veteran, is stepping down as manager of the firm’s Boca Raton, Fla. “Tropics” complex to become an advisor, the Merrill spokeswoman confirmed. Liebman was in charge of about 140 advisors and 75 support officials, and also served as a “market integration executive” coordinating sales and referrals among Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Bank of America Private Bank employees in the Boca/Delray Beach area, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Merrill has not yet named a replacement for Liebman, the spokeswoman said.
In Minnesota, another veteran, Mark D. Eckerline, retired last week. Eckerline, who joined Merrill in 2006 and has been a registered rep for 40 years, was market executive for the seven offices and approximately 150 brokers in the firm’s Twin Cities complex. He has been replaced on an interim basis by Shawn Allen, a 20-year Merrill veteran, the spokeswoman said. Merrill, like Morgan Stanley, has empty branch and complex manager seats across the nation as veterans leave or are deployed strategically to new positions. Among the openings are positions in Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, Albany, N.Y. and Jacksonville, Fla.