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Mindy Diamond on Independence: Ex-Merrill ACTM Chair to Independent Business Owner

Kelly Milligan describes his journey at Merrill from zero to $1.5B in AUM, his role as chair of the ACTM, the change in culture at the firm and how that motivated him and his team to launch independent firm Quorum Private Wealth.


When you have clients with complex needs, it can be difficult to serve them from within a large firm. Because at the end of the day, the big brokerages have little choice but to set rules to govern thousands of advisors in a way that is profitable and efficient.

And making concessions to special requests—while many veteran advisors will share was practiced in the past—is something that rarely, if ever, happens today.

It’s a scenario experienced by even top-of-the-food-chain types—such as a former chair of Merrill’s Advisory Council to Management (also known as the ACTM).

And in this instance, we’re talking about the guest on this episode, Kelly Milligan, who was a member of the ACTM from 2015 to 2018, serving as chair in 2017.

The Advisory Council was established as a conduit for advisor feedback to management on issues surrounding the direction of the wealth management business, compensation, and practice management. As a result, members of this illustrious council are privy to “inside baseball” on Merrill’s direction, oftentimes well before their colleagues.

But, as Kelly shares, the group acts as “an advisory council, not a decision council,” and therefore while input may be provided by the advisory staff, the actions and policy mandates may ultimately not reflect as such.

Regardless, being a part of the ACTM is prestigious, and chair even more so, and is reflective of Kelly’s extraordinary career over more than two decades with Merrill. He started from ground zero and built the business, along with partner Mike Barry and their team, to over $1.5B in managed assets, before leaving in April 2021 to launch independent firm Quorum Private Wealth in Walnut Creek, Calif. with the support of Sanctuary Wealth.

In this episode Kelly discusses his journey with Louis Diamond, including:

  • Kelly’s role on the advisory council—and how that experience shaped his thinking.
  • The impact of the merger with Bank of America—and how the culture shifted from being one focused on accomplishing things for the clients to eliminating risk to the firm.
  • The limitations they encountered—and how that hindered their ability to serve the specialized needs of their clients.
  • The process of due diligence—and why they opted for independence with Sanctuary Wealth.
  • How their business has changed in the past year—and what they can do differently now as an independent firm.

While Kelly credits Merrill for providing the right environment to build and grow their business, the reality was that over time, their ability to serve the specialized needs of their clients was met with many more “no’s” than “yes’s.”

But when advisors are limited by what they can do for their clients, they are confronted with a choice: Live with the status quo or consider a path that would expand your ability to serve clients and grow the business on your own terms.

Listen in to learn why Kelly and the team chose the latter.

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Listen to more episodes of Mindy Diamond on Independence: A Podcast for Financial Advisors Considering Change.

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