In March, Peter Sargent stunned the wirehouse community by leaving Merrill Lynch to launch Sargent Wealth Management at the Philadelphia, Pa.-based regional firm Janney Montgomery Scott. Sargent, who is 42, worked at Merrill for two decades, and had just begun in January a term as Chairman of Merrill’s esteemed national Advisory Council to Management (ACTM), which advises Merrill management on advisory issues. His career has so far been littered with accomplishments. During his years at Merrill, he was frequently named to Barron’s Top 1,000 financial advisors; in 2006 at the age of 38, he was named among the "Top 40 Advisors Under 40"; and he has often been interviewed by national media outlets for his financial acumen.
As Peter’s friend, confidant, and career advisor for more than a decade, I had the opportunity to talk with him about why he chose to leave Merrill, and what lies ahead.
Mindy Diamond: You had a very successful career at Merrill Lynch for two decades. What went into your decision to leave now? Did the purchase of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America trigger your interest in exploring alternatives?
Peter Sargent: I thought long and hard about it and leaving Merrill Lynch was one of the hardest decisions of my life. I really enjoyed my time at Merrill, and think very highly of the people I worked with. Staying there would have been very easy. I wasn’t unhappy, in fact, I was at the peak since so many things were going right. However, I just felt the need to look at my options.
As far as the BofA purchase of Merrill– it really was not a factor for me. If it were, I would have left three years ago. Just like people, organizations change over time. Every firm has its own DNA and Merrill’s DNA was changing. I realized that my needs and my client’s needs could possibly be better served elsewhere. The key thing really is that I didn’t run away from Merrill, I ran toward Janney.
MD: I’m certain that you could have written your own ticket and gone to any firm on the street. So why Janney Montgomery Scott?
PS: You’re right, and some of the tickets that were offered to me were much more lucrative. However, the number one focus at Janney is nurturing the one-on-one client-advisor relationship. This philosophy is very important to me and after meeting with the principals of the firm, I knew that this would be the best place for me. Of course, there are many other reasons. I wanted an entrepreneurial environment but I also wanted to be part of a group–a pack–something bigger than me. Janney has scale and infrastructure, but I know I can still go right to the top if I need anything. It hit my sweet spot and I knew it offered the best of both worlds. As for the independent or RIA route, something that small just didn’t suit my personality.
MD: Many regional firms could tell a similar story. Was it anything specific to Janney that sealed the deal for you?
PS: It was really my internal radar. Many other firms could have supported my business, that’s true, and many other advisors may have made a different decision. But for me, I had one of those “not-too-hot, not-too-cold, but just right” feelings about Janney. If I have to point to one singular thing, it was that Janney’s leadership, especially Tim Scheve, the firm’s President and CEO and Jerry Lombard, President of the Private Client Group, made me feel like this was the place I wanted to spend the second half of my career.
MD: How is it going for you since the move? Any surprises?
PS: The biggest surprise was how painless the transition proved to be. After about four weeks, the majority of my book had already moved over. It was extremely gratifying to validate the strength of those client relationships forged over the course of 20 years
MD: What did you say to your clients about leaving Merrill and joining Janney?
PS: Given Janney’s name in my marketplace, most of my clients were familiar with the firm, and I didn’t get any pushback from them. There were some natural questions about how the move would impact them, but I was able to allay their concerns by telling them that Janney offers optimal investment flexibility, thus enabling me to do a better job for them. I assured them too, that the move would be cost neutral for them. For the most part, however, the majority trusted me and knew I was operating with their best interests at heart.
MD: What was going through your mind as you walked out of Merrill and headed toward your new office at Janney for the first time?
PS: I left Merrill at 8:30 a.m. I was excited and had butterflies in a good way. It was reminiscent of my first day at Merrill. I knew that this was going to be an exciting next chapter no matter what. By 10:30, I knew the transition would go well. It was an affirmation of 20 years of doing right by my clients—loyalty, trust and commitment.
Mindy Diamond is president of Diamond Consultants of Chester, N.J., a nationally recognized boutique search and consulting firm in the financial services industry.