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$160M adviser leaves Wells Fargo for Steward Partners

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An adviser overseeing $160 million in assets is the latest to join Steward Partners, a fast-growing independent firm affiliated with Raymond James.

William Blake joined the firm from Wells Fargo in Washington. Blake, an industry veteran of three decades, says he made the move partly because the greater freedom to serve clients in new ways as well as the possibility to become an equity partner in the firm. That was particularly appealing, he says.

"The fact that everyone at the firm is a partner means that at the end of the day we're all working toward the same goal, which is serving the clients," Blake says.

Steward Partners has grown rapidly since its founding in 2013 by a group of former wirehouse managers. The firm has opened new offices and recruited advisers from big firms such as Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and UBS.

More than 50 advisers have joined the Washington-based independent firm, which now boasts eight additional offices. In February, Steward Partners expanded to Clearwater, Florida, hiring three Morgan Stanley teams that oversaw a combined $700 million in client assets.

Blake is the 10th adviser to join Steward Partners so far this year, according to CEO Jim Gold, who says the firm's recruiting pipeline is strong.

"We think we have the possibility to bring in $35 million in production," he says. "But the most important thing, and we say this a lot but we mean it, that it's great people first, great business second."

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Blake started his career at Merrill Lynch in 1987, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records. He worked at Smith Barney from 2000 to 2008, when he left for Wells Fargo.

Several managers at Steward Partners also have past work experience at Smith Barney, such as Divisional President Jeff Gonyo.

Gonyo says Blake's decision to join Steward Partners wasn't made lightly.

"It was probably a year to a year-and-a-half process. Bill really did his due diligence, and we appreciate that," Gonyo says.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment on the departure.

For his part, Blake says he explored other options, including opening his own RIA.

"When you look at it, it seems really appealing," he says. "But when you do your due diligence, you see what's really involved. You need to find your own space. You need to hire staff. It takes a lot of time away from what I really think I should be doing, which is serving my clients."

Steward Partners enabled him to move to the independent channel without being saddled with unnecessary burdens, he says.

Blake says he's also excited about the ability to use his newly earned credential, the accredited investment fiduciary designation from Fi360. Blake passed the requisite training and exam, last month.

He says it appealed to him because wanted to get ahead of the fiduciary rule, and to offer his clients a higher level of service. "It's important to me and it should be important to my clients."

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