EP 43: Freedom from the Big Brand: Unencumbered Growth for an $800mm Team

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Mindy DiamondA Conversation with Steve Schwarzbach, Founder and Managing Partner of Icon Wealth Partners

Having started his advisory career at Smith Barney in 2008 – just two days after Bear Stearns was sold to J.P. Morgan for $2 a share – Steve Schwarzbach witnessed first-hand how quickly culture can change. The once advisor-friendly, client-centric model that Smith Barney was known for disappeared day-by-day after Morgan Stanley purchased the firm.

Mindy Diamond Podcast | Steve Schwarzbach, Founder and Managing Partner of Icon Wealth Partners

Steve Schwarzbach, Founder and Managing Partner of Icon Wealth Partners

He and his partner started exploring their options soon after but didn’t feel that the independent space was quite right for their business at the time. Yet it continued to get increasingly difficult to serve their clients, and as Steve says, “We felt like we were being told ‘no’ more often than ‘yes.’”

It was the realization that the wirehouse’s need to “protect the firm and the franchise by managing to the lowest common denominator” trumped serving the best interests of their clients that propelled them to start exploring again.

So, in 2017, the Houston, Texas-based $800mm RIA firm Icon Wealth Partners was born.

In this episode, Steve discusses:

  • Why he and his partner felt independence wasn’t right for their business when they first started exploring in 2009—and what changed their minds further down the road.
  • Why they didn’t make a move to another wirehouse—and what other models they considered.
  • How the need for alternative investment products had become a factor in their decision-making process—and also hindered their initial consideration of moving to the independent space.
  • Why they opted to use a service provider—and why Dynasty Financial Partners was the right fit for their business.
  • How they framed the message to clients about leaving a big firm like Morgan Stanley—and what key factor resonated most with the clients.

Plus, Steve shares how they have been able to attract more high net worth and ultra-high net worth clients since building their own firm—even without a big brand name behind them.
Aside from regaining the power to define their firm’s culture and the ability to offer best-in-class products and services, the real benefit of independence, Steve says, is being “unencumbered by a big firm agenda.” And for most advisors and their clients, that’s the biggest benefit of all.

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About Steve Schwarzbach: 

Steve is a Founding Partner of Icon Wealth Partners and is a member of the firm’s Investment Committee. Steve has more than 30 years of experience in the financial services industry. Before founding Icon Wealth Partners, Steve served high-net-worth clients as a Private Wealth Advisor in Morgan Stanley’s Private Wealth Management unit with his business partner, Mark McAdams. Previously, Steve was a Senior Partner in the Financial Services practice of the global consultancy Accenture, where he served large financial institutions in the U.S. and internationally.

Steve earned his Bachelor’s degree in Finance at Texas A&M University in 1985. He is a Certified Private Wealth Advisor, a certification of the Investment Management Consultant Association (IMCA). He also attended the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Steve is a native Houstonian and remains active at his alma maters, St. Thomas High School (Houston) and the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University. He is a Trustee of the St. Agnes Academy Foundation and is a founding Board Member of SpringSpirit Baseball, a local non-profit that provides life opportunities to underserved youth in the Houston area.

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