Updated Thursday, April 17, 2014 as of 8:17 PM ET
Arbor Point Gains $100 Million Advisor Group

Arbor Point Advisors is beginning to gain traction as a destination platform for breakaway advisors and brokers.

The 13-month-old firm -- a joint venture of Securities America, one of the nation’s largest independent broker-dealers,  and NorthStar Financial Services Group, owners of Orion Advisor Services -- has signed up  a new $100 million breakaway RIA, Fortress Wealth Advisors of Omaha, Neb.

Fortress is the fifth firm to join Omaha-based Arbor Point since the RIA, which provides an open architecture platform to accommodate dually registered advisors, opened for business early last year. The deal effectively triples Arbor Point's assets to approximately $155 million, says Arbor Point president Curtis Reed.

"Our business was set up to help advisors whose primary business is a fee-based relationship, but who still have some revenue from traditional commission-based products like variable annuities and also need a broker-dealer relationship," says Reed, a former top Charles Schwab executive who also owned his own RIA, Windy City Wealth Management. "We've seen that those advisors are growing faster than average, but they get to a point where the business plateaus because they're spending too much time on compliance, technology and operations."

Besides a broker-dealer affiliation and a dual-clearing capability from Ladenburg Thalmann Financial Services unit Securities America, Arbor Point's pitch includes compliance, back-office support, Orion's performance measurement and reporting service, and access to Blue Giant Advisory Studios, an affiliated digital marketing company.

"We support  the advisors' business and also give them the flexibility to choose the custodians they want, so  their client relations are not disrupted when they come over," Reed says.

BRANDING CHALLENGE

Visibility and differentiation have been the biggest challenges for Arbor Point, says Reed.

"We're not as well-known as the big firms, and advisors need to know exactly what Arbor Point does that makes us different from a United Capital or a Mariner," Reed explains. "We all use the same words so often that some blurring exists."

Indeed, the lack of branding has been Arbor Point's Achilles heel to date, agrees industry consultant Tim Welsh.

"No one has ever heard of them," says Welsh, president of Larkspur, Calif.-based Nexus Strategy. "They don't have a brand like LPL or Raymond James, so a breakaway is probably going to default to a big-name firm first."

Another challenge is geography, Welsh adds: "They're in the Midwest, where there's simply less people."

But Welsh thinks Arbor Point's prestigious parent companies offer advisors "a unique combination of technology and platform that makes it very easy for breakaway brokers to join. And the fact that they're starting from scratch can be an advantage. There's no legacy baggage, which can be appealing for a breakaway looking for a fresh start."

APPEAL TO FORTRESS

Arbor Point's support staff and location were the biggest selling points for Fortress, according to co-principal Dana Webb, who co-founded the new RIA firm with his son Curren after the two advisors left Mandarin Investment Counsel in Omaha.

Fortress hopes to begin operating as a franchise model, attracting breakaway brokers with attractive payouts. 

"We saw they were into attracting good people, which is what we want to do," Webb says. "I can afford to pay more because I'm structuring the business to keep overhead low and put the money into people who are producers."

The only other firm Fortress looked at seriously was San Jose, Calif.-based Concert Wealth Management. "Concert is more of a boutique," Webb says. "But Arbor Point was right in our backyard, so we went with them." 

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