Since J. Nicholas Georgis left Schwab Institutional [SCHW] six years ago the San Francisco company changed its name to Schwab Advisor Services, the field of competitors has crowded, and advisors have come to expect more from their relationships with custodial firms.
Still, industry figures say Georgis’ institutional memory from his first term at Schwab will make him a tremendous asset to the company now. Georgis returned to the company last week as vice president of strategic business.
Specifically, Georgis will improve communications between the firm and its clients, according to Timothy Welsh, the president of Nexus Strategy, which is based in Larkspur, Calif. Welsh overlapped with Georgis at Schwab Institutional.
Despite Schwab’s leadership position in the registered investment advisor custody business, the company continues to make mistakes in client relationships, Welsh said. Around last March, Schwab reacted to the sting of the market downturn by telling advisors it would stop holding custody of alternative investment assets, effectively banning all of its advisors from holding them.
“Advisors rose up and almost revolted,” Welsh said.
Schwab’s previous leadership, which included Georgis, would have maintained open lines of communication with advisors, instead of dictating a policy that angered its customers, he said. Instead, Schwab said it would initiate the ban after beginning a servicing relationship with a third-party custodian, according to press reports.
During Georgis' time as Schwab from 1991 to 2004, he pioneered the firm’s registered investment advisor relationship model that other custodians eventually copied, Welsh said.
“[Georgis] was the absolute best at building relationships with advisors,” Welsh said. “He would take the time to get to know the advisor and their business and then really customize offerings that Schwab could bring” to their business. That consultative approach—similar to the goals-based financial planning process between advisors and individual clients—separated Georgis from the rest of the field. Other ambitious custodians noticed, copied their ideas and steadily poached the firm’s top talent.
Yet Schwab has maintained a dominant position in the custodial marketplace since it first broke the mold, according to market observers. At the end of 2008, Schwab held $477 billion in client assets for 6,000 RIAs. Fidelity Investments followed with $290 billion in assets held for 3,500 RIA clients, to “New Realities in Wealth Management” published by Aite Group, a Boston research firm. Aite Group said it does not have figures going back to 2004.
In his new role, Georgis will oversee relationships with independent broker dealers and turnkey asset management platforms. He will also lead advisor merger and acquisition consulting, relationships with large consolidators, personal trust reporting system sales and strategies for acquiring new business, according to Alison Wertheim, a spokesperson for Charles Schwab.
Georgis was unavailable for comment.
Welsh said Georgis can handle the return to Schwab in the current environment. During his absence, he was at Wetherby Asset Management, a San Francisco registered investment advisory firm that has $3 billion in assets under management.
“He was in the trenches as an RIA, so absolutely his knowledge, skill sets are experience are more than relevant,” Welsh said.
Also, Georgis will have a lot to work with Schwab has a relationship management team of 110 to 120 people, the industry’s largest. Fidelity, its closes competitor, has about 12, Welsh said.
Fidelity did not return calls seeking comment.