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Family office competition heats up as new boutique lures top bankers

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It’s one of the hottest areas in finance: persuading wealthy families that they’ll benefit from advice not just managing their money, but also on areas such as how to give to charity and preparing the next generation to take over the reins.

The reasons are obvious. North America has the biggest pool of rich people globally with more than 200,000 people worth at least $20 million, according to Boston Consulting Group.

The firm predicts at least $20 trillion of new financial wealth will be created over the next five years. What’s more, the ultrahigh-net-worth crowd are looking for more than robo-advisers or the latest ETFs, offering the opportunity for banks and advisers to earn fees.

The latest entrant is from Cresset Capital Management, an investment firm started by former private equity executives in Chicago. It’s adding two bank executives to start a family office practice — Michael Cole, who founded and led U.S. Bank’s ultrahigh-net worth outfit at Ascent Private Capital Management, and Kevin Long, a senior director for business development at Wells Fargo’s Abbot Downing, where clients need a minimum of $50 million in investible assets.

Cresset Family Office, run by Cole, will provide services including wealth and tax planning, philanthropy and governance advice and risk management. The unit expands Cresset’s offerings beyond a $2 billion wealth adviser it started last year and Cresset Partners, which holds the firm’s private equity and real estate investments.

Banks have been losing some of their most experienced and profitable wealth advisers to upstart firms. Over the past three years, ultrahigh-net-worth assets overseen by independent multifamily offices have grown 10% on average each year, about five times as fast as assets held at private banks, Cerulli Associates estimates. An Abbot Downing spokeswoman said assets have grown by more than 40% since the brand was established in 2012.

These often-reclusive businesses manage the finances of America’s affluent and occasionally complete with banks for clients and employees. These offices have interesting back stories.
January 18

High-profile departures include Goldman Sachs’ Frank Ghali, who oversaw about $10 billion in client assets before leaving to start Jordan Park Group last year. In 2016, Margaret Dechant led her 13-person team, then managing $2 billion, out of Morgan Stanley to form 6 Meridian.

“Many products and services that used to be the domain of large banks are now available at boutique firms," Cole said, pointing to back-office processes such as reporting that have been made cheaper by technology. Banks meanwhile are struggling with regulatory costs and sprawling operations.

Cresset, which refers to the cup that holds the flame in a torch, was started by former Sterling Partners co-founder Eric Becker and Avy Stein, who co-founded Willis Stein & Partners. The duo’s dissatisfaction with existing offerings for investing their wealth prompted them to set up their own operation.

Becker says Cresset intends to fill a void in the industry for families seeking holistic services and opportunities like direct investments. “We realized that this was an industry that is changing and needs changing," he said.

Bloomberg News