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Ex-Merrill Team Finds “Freedom” in HighTower Alliance

By Murray Coleman November 23, 2016

After nearly nine years at Merrill Lynch, advisor William Thrush left recently to join HighTower Advisors. His new Westport, Conn.-based practice includes partner Meghan Rump, who also comes from Merrill. Most recently, the team managed about $250 million at the wirehouse and generated annual fee revenue of $1.1 million. Earlier, both advisors had worked together at UBS Financial Services.

Q: Why did you decide to leave the wirehouses?

A: We wanted to move into an environment where the institutional component of the business isn’t creating proprietary products to be distributed through its advisory group. It wasn’t like we didn’t want to work with similar products – Bank of America is a tremendous institution. But we saw a need to move into a more competitive environment in terms of being able to choose the best products and services for each individual client.

Q: Did you run into much cross-selling?

A: As a team, we embraced everything that was available on the Bank of America platform. That included helping clients with their day-to-day banking needs. It also gave us an opportunity to bring clients and investment bankers together. So on the whole, it was a plus. There were suggestions from management when it made sense to offer these sort of introductions, but we never felt pressured to pitch certain products. Our main reason for leaving the bank was to be able to present our clients with the best economics in terms of holistic planning as possible.

Q: How so?

A: We’re now very unconflicted in terms of managing retirement services programs. HighTower provides us with a platform that gives us a broader ability to offer a wider range of asset managers and investment research. That lets us provide a best-of-breed type of client experience. Also, we’re now able to discuss any and all assets a client might hold no matter where they’re held.

Q: How does this move impact your practice’s growth prospects?

A: Our practice has always been focused on rising stars. By that I mean our clients are typically in their early 40s and in the upswing of their careers. These are the types of people who realize they don’t have the time to manage the complexities of their own wealth. This is especially true for business owners. We see tremendous opportunity now because we’re able to offer families a wider variety of investment and planning services that are unique to their individual situations.

Q: What was the toughest part of your move?

A: Since we joined in late October, we’re still in the midst of transitioning our book of business. We followed the industry protocol and weren’t allowed to tell our clients beforehand. That did cause a good deal of trepidation. Moving from a well-established business to create a new one also introduced a good deal of uncertainty into our lives. It was a very humbling experience.

William Thrush

Q: How did you deal with such anxieties?

A: We focused on the positives – what we wanted to really accomplish with this move. We also kept things pretty simple in terms of our own business logic – if you work hard and remain highly focused on each family’s financial needs, things will turn out all right in the end. While we’re joining HighTower, we’re part of their affiliated network. So we’re not employees. But they’re providing us with comprehensive front-, middle- and back-end support for our practice.

Q: So how is it going?

A: It’s a work in progress. But since many of our clients are entrepreneurial, they generally have been very appreciative of our reasoning behind wanting to form our own firm and manage our own profit and loss statement. In that sense, we’re receiving a lot of encouragement from people.

Q: How is technology playing into opening your own firm?

A: We’re finding the power of social media to be just overwhelming. HighTower does offer a good level of compliance support in our use of technology platforms. But we’ve got so much more freedom to use social media now than in the wirehouse environment. So we’re able to develop fuller conversations with both prospects and long-term clients now using different online tools. We’ve received a cavalcade of congratulatory notes and best wishes from people able to connect with us through LinkedIn. It’s really helping us to open broader lines of communications with our clients and their families.