Rapidly growing Washington Wealth Management opened its Los Angeles office Monday with a breakaway group of three advisors from Wells Fargo, who said changes at the bank forced their hand.
“When we moved to Wells Fargo five years ago or so, I was hoping to end my career there,” said Rick Montejano who, along with his two partners David Yee and Jeff Mramor, took $120 million in assets under management and $1.4 million in revenues from the bank Friday. “But after 2008 and 2009, the whole landscape changed.”
Since then, he says, the bank began to impose an increasing number of decisions on the trio, including tying their compensation to selling product, doing mortgages and hawking credit cards.
“Who know what it’s going to be next?” Montejano said he and his team wondered. “When we started seeing this trend, we said we need a better way to go.” The trio’s own firm is called Pacific Point Asset Management.
Founded 18 months ago, Washington Wealth has built its fast-growth strategy entirely on poaching fed-up managers like Montejano from banks or wirehouses. The company’s sweet spot is advisors with $1 million or more in revenues, according to its co-founder Tony Sirianni, who is profiled in the May issue of Financial Planning. The company now has advisors in seven offices nationwide, including California, Connecticut, Nevada and in Virginia, where its headquarters is located. Former Morgan Stanley advisor Christian Amato also joined the former Wells Fargo team yesterday in the new Los Angeles office, which is actually based in Woodland Hills. At 5,700 square feet with 10 offices total, the space will be big enough to accommodate more breakaways in coming months.
Washington Wealth potentially has hundreds of advisors lined up to join the firm, according to Sirianni, who wants to bring them on in a steady, methodical fashion.
Since Friday, the former Wells Fargo advisors have been calling their clients to deliver the news and, Montejano says, he’s been surprised by the reaction.
“A lot of our clients are independent business owners and, to be honest, they don’t like Wells Fargo,” he said. “We had no idea. About 40% are saying, ‘Thank God’ because they either don’t like Wells Fargo or they don’t like big banks. Another 30% are saying, ‘Well, it’s about time.’”
No clients have indicated they will leave, he says. Upon hearing the news, a couple have already begun referring friends to the new firm, said Montejano, who worked for Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney earlier in his career.
Like many advisors who come to Washington Wealth, the Pacific Point advisors still owe money to their former employer but they decided it made better financial sense to work out a plan to pay those loans off now, rather than stay where they were.
There are some early signs they made the right decision, he added. Two clients who had left the firm called and asked to reopen their accounts upon hearing that Pacific Point had left Wells Fargo.
Montejano said he didn’t want to continue in an old way of business that is dying. Instead, he said he and his partners thought, “Let’s be at the forefront of this thing because it’s going to start avalanching.”