HighTower Advisors has hired an advisor team from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s Graystone Consulting business who oversaw $2.5 billion in client assets to open its first Scottsdale, Ariz., office.

The team includes James Pupillo, who joined HighTower on Jan. 20. Pupillo, who served as institutional and family wealth director at Graystone, now serves as managing director and partner at HighTower. He has placed on Barron’s Top 100 advisors list every year since 2006.

Also joining HighTower with Pupillo are Brian Hein and David Brasfield, who each serve as director and partner. In those roles, Hein will focus on corporate benefit plans for both not-for-profit and for-profit organizations, while Brasfield will provide financial planning services to wealthy families.

“I looked at several vendor platforms to support us if we went completely independent, but none provided anything close to the comprehensive platform at HighTower,” Pupillo said in a statement. “We joined HighTower because it represents the very best of breed solutions, supporting sophisticated independent advisors and harnessing the competitive power of Wall Street for the benefit of our clients.”

The team’s story is a familiar one, as many financial advisors have reached “maximum frustration” at their current firms that may have lost clients’ trust, HighTower Executive Vice President of Business Development Mike Papedis said in an interview on Monday.

HighTower plans to continue to ramp up its expansion and take advantage of the increased advisor movement the firm anticipates this year, Papedis said.  HighTower increased its rate of advisor transitions by 70% in 2011 when compared to 2010, according to Papedis. The firm plans to top that rate in 2012, he said.

Chicago-based HighTower was established in 2008 as an alternative to the traditional structure of financial services firms; HighTower’s advisors have part ownership in the firm.

The firm’s model has been successful so far, Papedis said. HighTower’s earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, or EBITDA, is positive, and year-over-year revenue growth is more than 400%, Papedis said.

Much of that growth has come from targeting specific geographic regions and the top advisor teams in those areas. This team coming from Morgan Stanley marks the HighTower’s first Southwest location, Papedis said, and should be the first of many new hires this year.

“The industry is on the cusp of major movement in ’12. For many advisors, the retention package is burning off. They’ve reached their tipping point and are making plans to move,” Papedis said. “We have many opportunities that are at or near the goal line, and we expect a lot of exciting news shortly.”

Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.





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