Morgan Stanley, Merrill Teams Jump to Indie Firms in NY and AZ

Two sizable wirehouse brokerage teams this week announced their move to so-called independent firms, with one citing more restrictive retirement account policies at their old firm as motivation for the move.

In New York City, Ruben Lerner and Manuel Uranga joined Bolton Global Capita from Morgan Stanley, where they said they were managing $550 million for wealthy clients in Europe, Latin America and the U.S.

Lerner is a Venezuelan native who was with Morgan Stanley and its Smith Barney predecessor for almost 15 years, while Uranga, who hails from Spain, was with the firms for almost 19 years.  They arrived at Morgan Stanley with some fanfare in July 2008, just months before it announced its joint venture with Smith Barney.

Operating at Bolton under the firm name A Plus Capital, they and two associates will custody with BNY Mellon Pershing and have offices in Manhattan and Miami, where Bolton has been aggressively picking up brokers from wirehouses increasingly wary of doing business with foreign-based clients.

A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley confirmed the departures but declined further comment.

Bolton expects to add a total of $850 million to accounts this year from brokers hired in New York City, said Ray Grenier, chief executive of the Bolton, Mass.-based firm. That includes assets that Lerner and Uranga attract from their former clients, as well as money from another team hired earlier this year and from a third group who currently manages $300 million who are expected to join in the fourth quarter.

Separately, lifelong Merrill Lynch broker Sharon Barton and her business partner Jay Spector formally announced their affiliation with registered investment advisory firm Stratos Wealth Partners and LPL Financial. The Scottsdale, Ariz., team said they were managing $311 million of client assets at Merrill, according to a news release from LPL.

Stratos, which is based in Beachwood, Ohio, oversees some $4.2 billion split among more than 100 investment advisers, and utilizes LPL’s “hybrid” platform for RIAs and brokers.  Barton and Spector, who have been with Merrill for 31 years and five-and-a-half years, respectively, left Merrill for Stratos at the end of July, according to their BrokerCheck records.

“Continued business and culture changes were limiting our ability to support our clients,” Barton said in a prepared statement. She fingered Merrill’s relatively restrictive approach to retirement account offerings as the last straw.

“The implementation of the Department of Labor ultimately became the impetus for us to make the move to the independent model so we could have what we needed to operate our business successfully and in the best interest of our clients,” she said.

Even though the Trump Administration has delayed the effective date of enforcing the new retirement-account rule’s enforcement provision and indicated it may retract enforcement, Merrill has gone further than many of its competitors in prohibiting brokers from offering commission-based retirement accounts that could violate so-called best-interest contracts that may take effect in 2019.

A Merrill spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

LPL, for its part, rubbed upped proverbial salt in Merrill’s early-mover decision.

“For Sharon and Jay, who are committed to investor choice and their firm’s continued growth, LPL offers investment solutions designed to maintain choice for their clients,”  Steve Pirigyi, the independent broker-dealer’s executive vice president of business development said in the news release.

LPL permits its affiliated brokers to sell commission-based retirement account investments but has imposed some restrictions on compensation, mutual fund custody and products to comply with the DOL rule.