Merrill Houston-Area Teams Leave, One to Wells and a Second to RIA
Six Merrill Lynch Wealth Management advisors on two Houston,Texas-area teams left in recent weeks, one for Wells Fargo Advisors’ private client group and a second for a small registered investment advisory firm. All but one of the advisors had spent their entire brokerage careers with the Thundering Herd.The Wells immigrants, led by 46-year Merrill veteran George Eckhardt, Jr., wanted the comfort and support of a resource-rich wirehouse but was fed up with the growing lack of autonomy they were experiencing since Bank of America bought Merrill, Eckhardt said. The team, which he said produces just over $3 million annually, had been looking for a new home for about three years, he said.
“I don’t want to sell checking accounts and credit cards,” the 72-year-old broker said of his disenchantment with the firm that he joined in 1972. “I was raised under the Charlie Merrill umbrella, and I’m very sad over where it’s going.”
His team was also feeling pressure to use firm-controlled managed accounts rather than run discretionary stock portfolios it prefers to manage for its more than 400 primarily retirement-age customers, he said.
Eckhardt moved to Wells’ Sugar Land office from Merrill’s Houston Galleria office in mid-June with advisors Hal Finberg, Mark Latawiec and Rosemary Guilllote. They are also Merrill lifers who had been with the firm since 1999, 1998 and 2000, respectively, according to their BrokerCheck histories. Three client associates also made the trek.
Their move occurred two weeks after a $3.4 million, two-advisor team at a Merrill branch in Sugar Land left to open a branch for Stifel, Nicolaus in the southern Houston suburb.
Morgan Stanley and UBS have some of the same bank-centric issues as Merrill, Eckhardt said, adding that Wells appears to be making good on its promise of more autonomy and is escaping the taint of its parent bank’s fake-account scandals. (His team sends clients who object to the Wells name a Harvard Business Review analysis of the fake-account crisis that he says quells most of their fears.)
Wells also remains in the Protocol for Broker Recruiting, making the difficult task of transitioning clients a little easier, Eckhardt said. (UBS and Morgan Stanley dropped out of the pact in late 2017, preventing brokers from bringing client-contact information with them to new firms.) The on-the-ground support from Wells has been more important than the relatively strong forgivable-loan recruiting deal that the bank-owned broker-dealer also has been offering, the broker said.
Separately, a Merrill team in The Woodlands, about 28 miles north of Houston, left two weeks ago to open a registered investment advisory firm affiliated with Main Street Financial Solutions, a Pennsylvania-based financial planning franchise with about 18 advisors.
Led by Crystal Prachyl, who began her brokerage career in 2007 at Merrill, according to her BrokerCheck history, the team also includes two other certified financial planners. They are Chase Hammett, who joined Merrill three-and-a-half years ago after a short stint with AXA Advisors, and Douglas Dobson, who had been with Merrill since 1996.
Prachyl and Hammett confirmed their move but declined to discuss the size of their practice at Merrill or their motivations for moving. Crystal focuses on comprehensive financial planning for individuals, families and corporate clients.
A Merrill spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comments on the moves or on Eckhardt’s remarks about the changes in Merrill’s culture.