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$230M Merrill Lynch advisor jumps to HighTower

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HighTower Advisors has recruited the Keith Group, the firm’s second major platform addition in less than a week. The Lebanon, Pennsylvania-based RIA is led by former Merrill Lynch broker Kevin Keith and oversees $230 million in client assets, according to a spokeswoman.

On October 5, HighTower said it recruited a $500 million team, True Wealth Advisory Group, which is based in Miami and previously worked at J.P. Morgan Private Bank. HighTower has added more than 22 firms in 2017, making it the firm’s busiest year on record.

Keith, who spent the past 22 years at Merrill Lynch, said changing winds in the industry spurred him to move firms and commit to a fiduciary standard.
“It’s easy to say you’re a fiduciary. It’s another thing to actually deliver it,” he says.

The Keith Group will be operating on HighTower’s outsourcing platform, which aggregates back-end solutions that can be customized for advisors and individual clients, according to the company.

As a resident of a rural Pennsylvania town, Keith hopes to bring advanced wealth management solutions to clients in the region and across the country. “Some days I feel like George Jetson,” Keith jokes, and describes HighTower’s resources as “a specialized and customized platform for financial wealth management.”

A Merrill Lynch spokeswoman declined to comment on the departure.

Independent and regional firms have been maintaining strong appeal with new recruits.
October 3

The news of these two recent moves comes amid rumors that HighTower is on the auction block. Some industry insiders say the success of an acquisition deal will hinge on retaining the firm’s nearly 200 advisors, many of whom serve wealthy and ultrawealthy clients. Past M&A deals, such as Stifel’s purchase of Barclay’s U.S. Wealth management unit in 2015, have been followed by large-scale defections.

Industry insiders have said that an acquirer would need to come to the table with attractive retention packages and a commitment to advisor independence in order to hold on to HighTower’s advisor ranks.

HighTower has previously declined to comment on a potential sale.

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