The Secret Of HighTower's Recruiting Success: Disgruntled Merrill Reps? Hot

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This time around, it's Mark Masterson and Dave Emma making the leap to independence. This is a relatively young team -- Emma graduated from college in 1991 -- but have spent most of their advisory careers at Merrill, so this is a big move for them.

 

As has become the norm, the team's profile is still up at TotalMerrill even though they formally signed with HighTower last Friday. The Portland, Maine-based Simmons Wilkes Group, which defected to HighTower in late February, still showed up on the Merrill site for awhile before their page was finally deactivated, so it remains to be seen just how long the link will stay active.

 

Masterson was an award-winning 14-year veteran of the firm and Emma, a one-time Olympic hockey player and pro, had been training Merrill reps for 3 years now.

 

HighTower business development chief Mike Papedis notes that one of his firm's competitive advantages is its willingness to let elite advisors do their jobs "without the structural conflicts endemic to large integrated financial institutions."

 

Indeed, HighTower head Elliot Weissbluth tipped his hand a few weeks ago by basically firing a warning shot off Sallie Krawcheck's bow. As he said at the time, "The whole concept of cross-selling between a North Carolina bank and a Wall Street brokerage works elegantly on a spreadsheet, but a Merrill advisor ultimately rails against the idea that he needs to push BofA products."

 

Naturally, that whole cross-selling synergy is usually cited as the holy grail in broker-bank combinations, so it Merrill can't make it work, it raises question marks about the whole enterprise.

 

And Weissbluth said he's got plenty of prospects on the line. "Any reasonable Merrill manager knows his people are looking around," he teased. Maybe Masterson and Emma are just the latest in a long list of defectors to come.

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