Focus Financial Partners has recruited a former Merrill Lynch executive to co-head a program that helps wirehouse advisors go independent, a sign that the firm is gearing up for more transitions.

Christopher Dupuy, now co-president of the Focus Connections program, is a 29-year veteran of the wirehouse world and most recently oversaw about 1,400 Merrill advisors as head of the Pacific Northwest Market, according to a statement from Focus. Dupuy claims his leadership experience and lengthy history in the industry will be assets to the Connections program.

"It's a relationship business, and I bring a long list of relationships with me. And not just with Merrill Lynch, but with many firms across the industry," says Dupuy, who had been with Merrill since he was 19-years-old and left the firm earlier this year.

Focus executives say hires like Dupuy are critical for connecting and communicating with wirehouse advisors.

"What they bring is deep experience from the wirehouse world. I don't have 30-years of experience in the wirehouse world. That can be very helpful in knowing who are the right teams to talk to. It's a vital skillset to bring to the program," says Rich Gill, co-president of the Connections program.

Industry observers say it’s a big grab for Focus, and a sign that even high level executives are attracted to independence.

"That says something that senior managers are leaving for independence. But it also says that the independent space is trying to respond to the needs of the independent world. They're acknowledging that they need to better meet the needs of the wirehouse advisors," says Tony Sirianni, founder and managing partner of Sirianni Strategy group, a consulting firm.

However, there are limits to how long a manager's relationships with his brokers can last, says Jeff Spears, CEO and founder of consulting firm Sanctuary Wealth Services.

"For the first months, you're going to have a positive opinion and you're going to take my call. With time that relationship just weakens as time passes because you've got other things on your plate. I remember you, you were great for me when we worked at Merrill, but life has gone on. What the exact shelf life is, what the tipping is, I'm not sure," says Spears.

He adds that Focus Financial has a strong record of enticing wirehouse teams to go independent, and most importantly Focus has significant capital.

Those advantages have translated into a busy start for the year for Focus. Recently, a Merrill team that managed $750 million in assets left the wirehouse to form Quadrant Private Wealth with Focus' aid. The Bethlehem, Pa.-based group is led by veteran advisor Herman Rij, who started his career with Merrill in 1969.

Dupuy says these successes, in part, persuaded him to join Focus.

"It was important to me that if I was going to make a move that I joined a leader that had success that I could build on," he says.

The Connections program launched in 2008 and has since helped transition advisor teams that managed more than $10 billion in client assets, according to Focus. Gill claims that Quadrant will not be the last team this year to go independent with Focus' aid.

"I think this year is not a blip. I think this is a trend. We're capable of supporting multiple transitions at a time. We've looked at the world, what's available and what's happening," says Gill.

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