HighTower has added a Merrill Lynch team with nearly $300 million in assets to its new network.

The Ezzell Group in Sacramento, Calif., will be the fourth advisory practice to join the HighTower Network, which is aimed at breakaway advisor teams with around $300 million in assets under management and $2 million in production.

Unlike HighTower's original partnership model, the network, which was launched last year, allows advisors to function as independent contractors; HighTower provides resources in areas like technology, compliance and research.

"HighTower's culture of transparency and integrity reflects the values that inform every one of our client relationships," said Ezzell Group founder Jason Ezzell, who joined Merrill Lynch in 1999, in a statement. "The firm's sophisticated technology and deep operational resources will be invaluable in driving our growth and enabling us to go above and beyond for our clients."

Ezzell is joined at the new firm by senior manager Alec Fisher.

FLEXIBLE MODELS

HighTower CEO Elliot Weissbluth emphasized during an interview at his company's Apex 2014 conference in Chicago last week that he wants to allow advisors in the wirehouse world the flexibility to determine their best independent model. In addition to the network model, HighTower also offers its partnership option and an alliance model for large breakaway teams.

"The ambition is to provide advisors that are in the wirehouses with a very flexible, customizable path to independence," he says. "Our business model allows for you to buy more things from us or, frankly, buy fewer things from us -- do them yourselves and you'll pay us less -- and we'll figure out the best model for you as you navigate your own path to independence."

While Weissbluth credits wirehouse firms with being "fantastic manufacturers of products," he urges brokers to lay that groundwork for achieving independence as soon as they can.

"Get on the path to independence, get out of the conflicted old model," he says. "It's broken and the sooner you do it the better, because once you're on that path, you'll wonder why you waited so long to begin that process."

The Ezzell Group move comes on the heels of other defections from wirehouse firms to the HighTower Network, including a $600 million Morgan Stanley team in early May.

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