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Inside Rockefeller: 140-year name, brand new chassis

It’s an 18-month-old firm with a nearly 140-year brand, led and staffed by seasoned industry veterans hoping to build something fresh in the wealth management landscape.

For former Morgan Stanley tech executive Chris Randazzo, signing on with Rockefeller Capital Management meant a welcome change of pace.

“The hardest thing [at the wirehouses] was caring for the legacy systems, things that had been carried over for 30 or 40 years,” he told attendees at SourceMedia’s In|Vest conference.

“At Rockefeller, I start with a clean slate,” said Randazzo, who now serves as president of Rockefeller Private Wealth Management.

His comments are the latest indication of how new players in wealth management — even those with long histories in other sectors — are rethinking approaches to technology in the financial planning industry.

Christopher J. Randazzo, President of Private Wealth Management, Rockefeller Capital Management
Christopher J. Randazzo, left; Meghan Morris, right.

Rockefeller sprung forth in 2018 from its namesake’s New York-based family office, which was established in 1882. The firm, which has backing from a hedge fund and is led by former Morgan Stanley Wealth Management President Greg Fleming, has since recruited multiple billion-dollar teams from the wirehouses. The firm has more than 20 advisors, according to Randazzo, and executives hope to attract more elite talent, banking, in part, on its history and fresh platform.

In an interview with Financial Planning, Randazzo emphasized the firm’s capabilities and flexible approach to technology.

“The strategy is if I have one chassis, every time I add a capability all the businesses get access to that capability. That’s important because we can do something once, and move and respond very quickly,” he says.

Rockefeller has three businesses: asset management, strategic advisory and a global family office, which Randazzo describes as the heart of the enterprise.

“The strategic advisory business is to largely cater to our clients and their families. It’s not to enter the investment banking market, it’s to help them with their needs, whether it’s to raise capital or to sell a business,” he says.

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Rockefeller is a full service broker-dealer, but leverages Fidelity’s custody and clearing services for its private wealth management side.

“There’s no reason for me to become an expert in custody and clearing, which are quite frankly table stakes for me and my clients,” Randazzo says.

Instead, he and his team are focused on other areas where they can enhance capabilities for clients and advisors.

Clients “want access to information 24/7,” Randazzo says. “They want access to cash management, lending. They want to see all their investments across households and relationships. Our job is to make them feel empowered while keeping them connected to their financial advisor at the same time.”

“The rest of the platform, I go best of breed,” he continues. “If I need a CRM, I know the top three players. I analyze them, I make a choice and we use it across Rockefeller.”

The firm’s leadership doesn’t have a target advisor headcount, but it has set an ambitious goal for AUM: $100 billion in five years. It has largely filled its current brokerage ranks with former wirehouse exiles, but Rockefeller could pick up independent advisors, Randazzo says. And the company intends to open offices in more major metropolitan markets. For example, Rockfeller could plant its flat in Chicago within the next year, according to Randazzo.

While he declined to specify the firm’s recruiting deal for top advisors, Randazzo says Rockefeller is “competitive in the marketplace.” And the departure of two wirehouses, Morgan Stanley and UBS, haven’t hurt the firm’s recruiting efforts, he says.

“We’ve made significant progress,” Randazzo says. “We feel good about our position and about what we’ve accomplished so far, but we realize there is a long way to go and we’re hopeful that we can continue to attract great talent in the areas we need.”

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