Raymond James is looking to crown its westward expansion with a new office in Seattle.

With the recent hire of a branch manager, the St. Petersburg, Fla.-based firm hopes to take advantage of recruiting and client opportunities in an increasingly competitive market for a number of regional firms.

“Quite frankly the best market that we’re not in is that Seattle market,” John Kuklenski, the divisional director of Raymond James’ north central division, said. “Our highest priority is to establish a presence out there.”

In March of this year, Kuklenski recruited David Wright, who had previously been a manager in charge of business development with Morgan Stanley, to be the point-man in charge of opening Raymond James & Associate’s first employee advisor office in the city. Wright has since begun conversations with veteran brokers in the area to join the office.  

“We’re in the process of explaining what we’re all about and why they would have a great opportunity with our firm,” Wright said. “The Seattle, Puget Sound and Pacific Northwest market is definitely a very strong market. There are tremendous opportunities for financial advisors to grow their business and you’re finding now that other firms are seeing that as well.”

Meanwhile, a number of firms have been moving in or increasing their focus on the area. The New York-based boutique wealth management firm J.P. Morgan Securities opened its first Seattle office in February of this year as Greg Quental, chief executive officer of J.P. Morgan Securities, called it a “key market.”

In April, Stifel recruited a $1 billion team from Wells Fargo’s independent network, which it used to open its second Seattle office in the suburb of Bellevue, and in Portland, Ore. John Lee, the firm’s Western Regional Director, said that the market had become something of a “hotbox,” since it bounced back more quickly from the 2008 crash and its major industries continue to grow.

“The wealth up in that marketplace has pretty good buoyancy,” Lee said. “It’s a very dynamic marketplace with a lot of big businesses that are the new generation of wealth creation…It’s one of the top hot markets to be paying attention to.”

A lot of the larger wirehouse firms are already in the market along with a number of independent firms (including those from Raymond James), but there is more demand for mid-sized brokerages such as Raymond James, which has some 5,400 advisors in its brokerage channel, according to the president of Raymond James & Associates' private client group, Tash Elwyn. He said industry consolidation and acquisitions of regional brokerages in the past few years have left a void for regional firms.

“As you look at the market there today, there are two extremes in terms of size,” he said. “With David as the local leader on the ground as well as myself to support David and meet with advisors, we’re seeing a tremendous amount of early interest.”

Elwyn said he did not have a quota for how many advisors he would need to staff the office, but said he hoped it would be a jumping off point for additional offices in Tacoma, Wash., and Portland, in addition to nine existing Raymond James & Associates offices in California.

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