Making the Switch to D.A. Davidson

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Brandon Brown honed his skills as a financial advisor during a 20-year stint with Merrill Lynch in the firm’s Colorado Springs, Co. office. But in the years following Bank of America’s takeover of Merrill, Brown and his partners began to sense it was time for a change.

“There was a culture clash between that of a big bank versus a wealth management firm,” says Brown. “And the culture and policies were not consistent with what we thought was best for our clients.”

After mulling the alternatives, including going independent as a registered investment advisor (RIA), Brown, his longtime partner Ky McCarty and the rest of his team decided to join the wealth management operation at D.A. Davidson in April 2018.

For the 49-year-old Brown, the decision to go with D.A. Davidson was a happy medium between staying with a large, bank-run wirehouse and going independent, which he and his team feared wouldn’t resonate with their clients.

“We went with D.A. Davidson because of the quality of people and the strong values,” says Brown. “The company is private and employee owned and they were committed to having a retail presence in Colorado.”

Brown’s commitment to building a practice in the economically-thriving Front Range, which includes the Colorado Springs and Denver areas, runs as deep as D.A. Davidson’s. The son of a career Air Force pilot who flew missions during the Vietnam War, Brown moved to Colorado Springs in 1988 to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy as an undergraduate student.

Though Brown had hoped to be an Air Force pilot like his father, his near-sightedness put an end to that dream. He also learned that the Air Force in 1992 was downsizing following the first Gulf War and didn’t need someone committed to serving in a combat role.

Instead, Brown joined the Marine Corps to serve as a ground combat officer. His six-year stint with the Marines took him from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to bases in Europe and southwest Asia. Along the way, he and his wife, Amy, whom he met while in high school in northern Virginia, started a family.

But unlike his father, Brown realized that he didn’t want a career in the military. “As an officer in the Marines, there is a season in life to do all the fun things and then you get promoted out of all the good jobs you want to do,” says Brown. “So I said goodbye to that chapter of my life.”

For Brown, the next step was a career that would allow him to make more money while also building a business of his own. “I had no money or business experience, but Merrill Lynch had a program to hire junior military officers out of the service,’” he says.

Brown chose to move to Colorado Springs to start his career in financial services. Twenty-two years later, he is still there, though now he’s a partner of a growing brokerage practice with approximately $385 million in assets under management. (He also has two sons, a 24-year-old and a 20-year-old.)

While Brown felt he and his partners had little choice but to switch firms two years ago, the process of communicating this change to his clients wasn’t always easy. “I had some emotional conversations with clients because some were surprised,” he says. “But once we explained why we did what we did and that we decided as an investment team to do it, the response was very good. In many cases, clients weren’t surprised and said, ‘What took you so long?’ ”

Brown says that a typical day at work serving clients with D.A. Davidson is quite different from his days with a large, bank-run brokerage firm. “Now I can be more focused on the things that are relevant versus the priorities of what the firm wanted me to focus on, which may not be aligned to what is in the best interest of our clients.’’

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