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Merrill loses $440M team to Raymond James

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Raymond James scooped up a Merrill Lynch team that managed over $440 million in client assets, making it the regional firm's latest recruiting grab since new regulations put pressure on firms to curtail back-end compensation common in many recruiting deals.

Advisers George Ewins, Richard Kowalski and Theresa Swett, who generated more than $1.8 million in annual production while at Merrill, joined the employee channel of Raymond James in Burlington, Vermont, according to the firm.

The trio made the move amid a shifting recruiting landscape under the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule. In October, the department released additional guidance on the new regulation that targeted the practice of awarding back-end compensation to advisers to entice them to switch firms.

Raymond James declined to comment on what changes, if any, they have made to their recruiting bonuses in light of the new regulatory guidance.

"We won't comment on recruiting deals or transition packages - never have, never will," a spokeswoman said.

Changes at Merrill Lynch prevented the trio from doing their best work for clients, Ewins said of their decision to switch firms. They realized that things are not the same everywhere like they previously believed. Compared to the wirehouse, Raymond James is a better firm, Ewins said in a statement.

"We have a lot more support [at Raymond James.] The business is exciting and fun again. Our team has a renewed sense of optimism"," he said.

The team was also impressed by the investment research, planning tools and customized investment management portfolios the regional firm offered, Kowalski said.

Plus, Wells Fargo hires a $700M team from J.P. Morgan Private Bank and helps a $587M Morgan Stanley team go independent.
September 13

Both Ewins and Swett spent their entire careers at Merrill Lynch prior to Raymond James, FINRA BrokerCheck records show. They entered the industry in the early 1990s.

Kowalski has 29 years of financial services experience, according to BrokerCheck. He started his career at E.F. Hutton and stayed through its transition to Shearson Lehman Hutton. In 1989 he moved to Merrill Lynch.

They now operate under the name Ewins, Kowalski & Swett Wealth Management, and report to Great Lakes regional director Dominic Prioli, according to a spokeswoman. Client service associate Faith Galusha also moved with the team.

The St. Petersburg, Florida-based Raymond James has about 7,100 advisers and oversees approximately $600 billion in client assets, according to the firm.

A spokeswoman for Merrill Lynch confirmed the team's departure but declined to comment further.

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