Merrill Team Managing $300 Million in Northern Ohio Goes Indie
Sandusky, Ohio, houses a ghost office for Merrill Lynch following the Memorial Day weekend departure of a five-person team that set up an independent advisory practice through Raymond James Financial Services.Dustin Ness, who was the branch’s producing manager, said he and three other advisors and an associate had been overseeing $300 million in client assets. The group, which is calling itself Waterstreet Financial, also includes Keith Sweigert, Christopher Nuetzel, Emily Bosley and client sales associate Amy C. Daley.
Ness, who in 2017 ranked 12th on Forbes’ list of Ohio’s top millennial advisors, declined to comment on the reasons for the move.
Merrill’s Sandusky branch lost its other team to independence last year when Brian Duttera, Elizabeth Skrinak and Pat Glasgow left to start True Alpha Wealth Management in Sandusky. They sell brokerage products and investment advisory services through independent broker-dealer Kestra Financial.
A person answering the Sandusky branch’s phone number said service for the branch is being handled by Merrill’s office in Westlake, which is about 50 miles away and lists 15 advisors on its website.
A Merrill spokeswoman did not return a request for comment on its plans for the Sandusky location.
The Bank of America-owned firm on Monday formally unveiled its Merrill Guided Investing platform that provides advice from the bank’s Merrill Edge “financial service advisors” to customers who have accounts of at least $20,000. As AdvisorHub reported in November, the bank is charging an annual fee of 0.85% for the service. It is discounting the fee by up to 15 basis points to customers who use other bank services.
Some of Merrill’s traditional wealth management advisors have expressed concern about competing with the no-frills Merrill Edge service, which charges .45% for “robo” advice that is not supplemented by human advisors. In April, Merrill Wealth Management President Andy Sieg said the firm plans to hire over 300 FSAs this year who will be located in Merrill Wealth offices, in addition to the approximately 2,700 currently at call centers or Bank of America branches.
“Over the past few years, we’ve continued to enhance the client experience by investing in new digital capabilities and in our investment advisory platform,” Sieg said in a prepared statement on Monday announcing the enhanced Merrill Edge program. “This offering gives clients and prospects the opportunity to seamlessly move from a digital offering to a full-service advisory relationship when the time is right, connecting them to everything they need.”
In its press release announcing the “Guided Investing” service, Merrill said that FSAs will refer “clients with more sophisticated financial needs” to one of its 14,761 Merrill Lynch Wealth Management brokers.
Raymond James had 7,862 advisors at the end of March, with almost 60% of them affiliated with its independent channel.
Ness began his career as a registered representative in January 2005 at A.G. Edwards & Sons, and joined Merrill in 2010 after four years at a Stifel, Nicolaus branch in Sandusky, according to his BrokerCheck history. Nuetzel worked for 25 years at Wells Fargo Advisors and its predecessor firm A.G. Edwards prior to joining Merrill in February 2013 in Mansfield, Ohio.
Sweigert began his registered rep career nine years ago with Merrill in Sandusky, while Bosley began her career in July 2015 at Merrill in the Ohio city, according to their BrokerCheck records.