Slideshow Inside Look: The HighTower Home Office Visit

  • March 08 2013, 1:43pm EST

Inside HighTower's Home Office Visit

Wirehouse advisors considering a move to HighTower routinely make the trip to the firm's headquarters for dinner and a day of one-on-one meetings with the top executives.

We sat down for a simulated home office visit that lasted two and a half hours; for an actual advisor thinking of coming over from a wirehouse, it probably would have taken five to seven hours.

From left to right: Doug Besso, Kristen Love, Elliot Weissbluth, Mike Papedis, Larry Koehler and Liza Tainton

Soundbite: Mike Papedis on the Trend Toward Independence

Photos by John Konstantaras unless otherwise noted.

Building the HighTower Brand

Advisors who want to build their own brands aren't going to HighTower because everyone is building the HighTower brand,says Mindy Diamond, president and chief executive of search and consulting firm Diamond Consultants.

The visit is a two-sided encounter, says Danny Sarch, president of recruiting firm Leitner Sarch Consultants. On the one hand, HighTower, a relatively new firm, needs to establish its credibility. But the firm is also evaluating the prospective partner.

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Impressing Advisors

Despite advisors commonly relocating in the employee channel, many are still loathe to give up the backing and prominence of the firms that have long been household names.

The home office visit shows advisors that HighTower’s offering is as robust, if not more robust, and that HighTower is as cutting edge, or even more cutting edge than the wirehouses, says Diamond.

The Right Fit

Finding a good fit culturally is an important element of the home office visit. It's about more than the advisors doing their due diligence on HighTower says Sarch.

It’s not for everyone and they don’t want to be for everyone, Sarch said. But it's naïve to think that HighTower has never been disappointed, or to think that people always say yes.

Kristen Love, Capital Markets

Questions about access and transparency are the most when Kristen Love meets with advisors. In nearly every conversation, she says, advisors become more comfortable as she digs into the details about specific product sets or transactions.

We have no creation of product, we have no vested interest in a specific product, we are purely utilizing the street access to be able to find product that is most beneficial to the advisor and the client, Love says.

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An Open-Architecture Platform

HighTower's multi-custodian open-architecture platform offers advisors multiple points of entry into the market; this instantly creates competition and means advisors see product pricing and access to areas that they may not have before, says Kristin Love, managing director of Capital Markets.

Matthias Kuhlmey, Group Investment Solutions

Matthias Kuhlmey, managing director of Group Investment Solutions and an advisor partner, joined the meeting via video conferencing from HighTower's New York City office. He helped design and develop HighTower's investment, consulting, and research offerings from a myriad of third-party vendors.

Kuhlmey is excited about HighTower's approach. It's never a top down approach, it's a bottom up approach...we are building what our clients want.

Doug Besso, Chief Information Officer

From an array of vendors and services, HighTower advisors can choose client reporting tools, institutional grade trading tools, client relationship management systems, financial planning software, and more.
When advisors hear about all the choices in HighTower’s technology offering and what’s possible, “they’re faces light up,” says Doug Besso, chief information officer. “We want our vendors to feel they always have to have the next best innovation."

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Liza Tainton, Operations Service Group

Transitions to HighTower are overseen by Liza Tainton’s group. HighTower, a member of the Broker Protocol, works with Protocol lawyers so advisors understand what should and shouldn't be done and follows an “exhaustive proprietary transition plan unique to every advisor,” says Tainton, managing director of Operations Service Group.
“I came to HighTower to build, and so far, I have not been disappointed.”

Larry Koehler, Chief Financial Officer

When Larry Koehler meets with advisors during home-office visits, he explains the financial side of the partnership equation. Partners split bottom line revenue 50/50 with HighTower and have equity ownership in the firm. It's a much better model because our interests are aligned,,q/> Koehler says.

Koehler's team also handles the facilities preparation. Friday afternoon when they break, everything is set up, the computers and supplies are there, everything they need to run their business when they come over, he says.

Larry Koehler and Mike Papedis, EVP HighTower Experience Group.

Regina Lahsin, Chief Marketing Officer

Lahsin's team starts by helping advisors build a vision and mission and then continue with the execution, implementation, and analytics.
She says the transition to a new brand has been smooth for most advisors. “You’d be surprised at how little tension there is,” Lahsin says. “They have a team identity and strong relationships and that comes with them.”

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Mike Papedis, HighTower Experience Group

Leaving a wirehouse is more than a difficult decision, it’s a journey toward independence, says Mike Papedis, executive vice president of HighTower Experience Group. “We attract the builder who wants to change the industry for the better,” he says.
“Our real power is in fostering competition,” he adds. Finding advisors who fit HighTower's culture has a lot to do with this. "The consistent trend we see is a client-first point of view," Papedis says.

Soundbite: The Challenges of Going Independent

Taking the Leap

HighTower advisor Leo Kelly brought his team of eight over in February 2012 after working as an advisor at Merrill Lynch since 1998 (he started at Merrill in marketing in 1996).
Kelly said the HighTower executives and advisors showed more enthusiasm during his Home Office Visit than anywhere else he looked. “There’s a reason you have that moment of realization…Of course in part you’re checking off boxes, but what you take away is the overwhelming desire to create something great.”

Photo courtesy of Leo Kelly

The Client, the Client, the Client

When Jeff Leventhal was considering leaving Merrill Lynch he made the trip to Chicago, but was still skeptical going into his home office visit. I went in thinking they wouldn't be able to answer my questions or make me feel comfortable enough to move my practice, he said.

Just a few months later he was doing exactly that. Elliot [HighTower's chief executive] and Drew [Andrew Kornreich, HighTower's president] see the business the same way I see the business, he said. The number one thing is the client, the client, the client. It was refreshing to hear that because that's how I run my business.

Soundbite: Mike Papedis on Leaving the Wirehouse

Photo by Vincent Ricardel