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$1B team quits Merrill Lynch to go indie with Focus Financial

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A Merrill Lynch team that managed over $1 billion in client assets quit to form an independent wealth management firm in Savannah, Georgia, with the backing of Focus Financial Partners.

Financial advisors Kelly Bouchillon, his wife Melissa, Emerson Ham and Edward Ambrose left
Merrill Lynch on Friday to found Sound View Wealth Advisors.

None of the advisors in the group had ever switched firms before, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records. At 28 years of experience, Kelly Bouchillion has the longest career of the team. Nonetheless, they were motivated to make a change because Merrill Lynch had been evolving into a more bank-dominated entity, particularly after former Merrill Lynch head John Thiel retired, they say.

“When John Thiel retired the messaging really started to change,” Melissa Bouchillon says. “Thiel was very much goal-based planning, optimal practice model, you’re better able to serve clients when you’re on teams and each of you specialize in different areas.”

Being independent would permit the team to better structure their practice to serve their clients, they say.

Merrill Lynch declined to comment on their departure.

The team is the latest group to breakaway from a wirehouse. Advisors managing about $40 billion in client assets left employee brokerages to go independent in 2017, according to data collected by Financial Planning. By comparison, the four wirehouse firms picked up new hires managing approximately $17 billion in client assets.

Many departing advisors have cited what they saw are the higher payouts and the greater flexibility available in the independent channel.

Sound View was launched with the help of Focus Independence, a division of Focus that aids teams in going independent. Sound View services high-net-worth individuals and families.

The Bouchillons have experience in trust and estate planning and fixed income investing while Ham and Ambrose serve as investment strategists and portfolio designers, according to the group.

The founders’ commitment to growth makes them a “great fit for Focus,” Chris Dupuy, president of Focus Independence said in a statement announcing the firm’s launch.

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