John Benevides, the new president of Harris myCFO -- one of the country’s largest multi-family offices -- has been put in charge of all BMO Harris’ UHNW businesses, which include Harris myCFO, CTC Consulting, Cedar Street Advisors and the ultra-wealth division of BMO Private Bank. Combined assets under administration for the businesses will total around $54 billion, Benevides said.

A rebranding of the businesses is likely, Benevides told Financial Planning, as he “actively works” to unify the UHNW group. “It makes sense,” he said. “We’re one team and we want to leverage the strength each unit brings to the table in a way that gives us greater depth in all categories.”

Benevides, previously president of Harris’ Family Office Services, took over as head of Chicago-based Harris myCFO last month, succeeding Joe Calabrese, who left the company. He reports to Terry Jenkins, head of parent company Bank of Montreal’s wealth business in the U.S.


The planned buildout of the UHNW business will include hiring new advisors, beefing up existing offices on both coasts and opening new ones in the Southwest.

Benevides has begun by hiring the highly regarded Michael Montgomery away from cross-town archrival Northern Trust and installing Montgomery as head of national sales for the ultrahigh-net-worth group.

“Michael’s cross-disciplinary depth gives us instant credibility,” Benevides said. “He’s been an advisor in a single family office [and] a multi-family office, and he’s a CFP and a CPA. That kind of expertise makes him the most valued person I know to have an initial discussion with a client.”


Harris’ newly combined business unit is expected to emerge as a force to be reckoned with in the high-profile but challenging UHNW market. Other large banks have also overhauled and rebranded their ultrahigh net-worth businesses in recent years -- most notably Wells Fargo, which launched Abbot Downing last year, and U.S. Bank, which unveiled Ascent in 2011.

Harris will also be going up against industry UHNW leaders like Northern Trust, Bessemer Trust, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase.

“The bar in that market is set by Northern Trust, and competing with them is a tall order,” said Alois Pirker, research director for Boston-based Aite Group. “BMO Harris has capital, some good legacy technology and reporting infrastructure from Harris myCFO, and what seems to be a good feeder system from the different units and the bank. But they’re going to have to rebrand, connect the dots and leverage the resources they have to be a player.”


Benevides need to “figure out how to consistently deliver integrated solutions to his clients and do it profitably,” according to Steve Prostano, a veteran UHNW executive and former chief executive of Silver Bridge Advisors.

“That means appropriate pricing, which will require changing the mindset of a large existing client base, eliminating redundancy in the capabilities he has, and efficient delivery," Prostano adds. "This will require a highly skilled management team with significant operating experience. I am very optimistic that they will be successful. Few firms have the capabilities and skills that Harris myCFO has."

Benevides, who cut his teeth in the business as president of Family Office Exchange, is well aware of the challenges Harris faces in the highly competitive UHNW market.

Despite hefty assets and big name clients, profit margins are “surprisingly very lean,” he says. And the capital commitment and high costs required to service the well-heeled target market -- clients with $25 million or more in investable assets -- also present formidable barriers to profitability.

Nonetheless, BMO’s robust financial heath, ample cash reserves, and commitment to the market give Harris a major advantage, Benevides argues. “BMO sees this as a strategic business to be in,” he says, “and private wealth has a direct line of reporting to the vice chairman of the bank.”

High Costs,High Hurdles

The major hurdles confronting players in the UHNW space are economics and client expectations, according to Benevides.

The high cost of providing services includes “paying more and more for talent,” he said, substantial investments in operating and reporting systems and increasing regulatory costs. Meanwhile, client expectations keep soaring, he added, causing firms to furiously compete with each other to add more services without charging enough for them.

Harris is focusing on pricing as a solution to this conundrum, Benevides said. The UHNW businesses will charge the traditional percentage of assets under management as an investment fee but will also charge retainer fees for non-investment services.

“At our core we believe we are delivering professional services, not just financial services,” he said. “We want to think like a law firm or an accounting firm,  with retainers, projects and hourly billing. We want to match the value we provide with what the client is willing to pay.”

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