Team Swaps Merrill for Hightower Over Frustration with International Biz

Jordan Waxman can handle the Ironman—he’s planning to run his fifth and sixth triathalons this year—but he couldn’t handle Bank of America bureaucracy.

Jordan Waxman can handle the Ironman—he’s planning to run his fifth and sixth triathalons this year—but he couldn’t handle Bank of America bureaucracy. The problems that he and partners Kenneth Hoffman and Richard Steinberg had running their ultra-high-net-worth practice at Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group after Merrill’s acquisition by Bank of America in the 2008 financial crash led the team to seek alternatives, Waxman says. Today the team, which managed $1.4 billion in assets for about 50 clients at Merrill, said they’ve left the wirehouse and joined HighTower, the Chicago-based national registered investment advisor.

Waxman, 47, said about a third of the practice’s business involved overseas investors, and the team ran one of the few international private wealth management practices at Merrill. It wasn’t always easy, Waxman says, although he declined to elaborate.

“It became at points unbearable for us. It was not hard to do international business when it was a part of Merrill. It was incredibly hard to do business internationally as part of Bank of America,” he said. “When you try to have a very tony, bespoke wealth experience from within a large organization…so much of our time was spent administratively dealing with a large bureaucracy, and it only got larger after Merrill became part of Bank of America, which we really didn’t sign up for.”

The new practice, HSW Advisors, is based in New York City. It’s the fourth large team that HighTower has recruited this year, and the second from Merrill. (Leo J. Kelly III and Brian Grumbach, formerly of The Kelly Group, last month announced their move from Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.)

Other big names have left Merrill this year. Last month John Beirne Jr. and his team said they had formed their own RIA with the help of aggregator Focus Financial Partners after concluding a Merrill policy that barred soliciting new pension plan business would crimp their growth.

“Our expectation and our hope is our clients will follow us. We’ve had an excellent reception so far,” Waxman said. Merrill Lynch could not be reached for comment.

Not every client was worried about the safety of their assets after the 2008 crash, Waxman said, but many were. One of the ways to assure clients was to find a model that allowed multiple custodians, he said. The team spent 16 months on the due diligence of finding a new way to do business. The team, which brought along a staff of five advisors, analysts and other professionals with them, evaluated other large firms, full independence, and joining small RIAs or larger RIAs similar to HighTower.

If they wanted to build their own business, Waxman said, it would look like HighTower’s—using multiple custodians and its own capital markets desk to conduct trades with other firm. “We just couldn’t recreate it without working a second job over time for an extra year. We didn’t have the energy or the capability to do that and still service our clients appropriately,” he said. It was easier to join HighTower.

Steinberg and Waxman left Goldman Sachs in 2002 to join Merrill. Hoffman joined Merrill in 1994 after working at Lehman Brothers and E.F. Hutton. At Merrill, their clients included families, foundations, endowments, unions and pension funds.

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