Embarrassed by Wells Fargo, 6 advisors take $300M in AUM to Raymond James

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Wrung out by years of scandals at Wells Fargo, a team of six financial advisors became the most recent defectors after the bank failed to secure Paycheck Protection Program loans for about 50 business owners they serve.

“We basically had clients demanding that we find a new home,” says Chris Williams of his team’s decision to move $300 million in assets under management to Raymond James. “We wanted to land at a place that wasn’t going to embarrass us in the future.”

The advisors, who were affiliated with Wells Fargo’s independent broker-dealer, now operate as Uinta Wealth Management in Salt Lake City within Raymond James’ independent advisor channel. In addition to Williams, the team comprises advisors Robb Farr, Brad Wittusen, Jeffrey Smith, Roger Thornton and Kelly Holtman.

Earlier this year, the federal government created PPP to help business owners survive the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as part of the $2 trillion CARES Act. The government provided the funds to banks and lenders which then extended loans to businesses.

When the federal stimulus money became available, Wells Fargo quickly allocated loans primarily to large businesses, according to Wiliams.

“They just weren’t offering them” to his clients, Williams says.

Uinta’s clients ultimately managed to secure PPP loans from other, smaller banking institutions, he says.

Wells Fargo’s tarnished reputation also troubled clients, according to Williams.

“With Wells being in the newspaper, clients quite frankly were complaining about it,” he says.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said the bank does not comment on advisor departures.

Wells Fargo continues to struggle with advisor attrition. Despite heavy recruiting, the number of its advisors fell to 13,298 for the second quarter from 13,799 for the year-ago period. Net income in wealth management fell 70% during the same time period. Companywide the bank also lost $2.4 billion in the second quarter.

After searching for a new independent broker-dealer for a year, the Uinta team decided on Raymond James for its client-centric culture and technology offerings, according to Williams.

He calls the change “refreshing.”

“Raymond James has a culture of doing what’s right for clients and ensuring advisors have the freedom to run their practice,” Williams said in a statement.

That Raymond James is not heavily engaged in “a lot of financial engineering” also appealed to the advisors.

“They are not big into investment banking,” Williams says. “They are not behind the scenes creating financial products that are complicated.”

Earlier in his career, Williams was a financial advisor at Smith Barney and Morgan Stanley. Smith, Farr and Thornton also are Morgan Stanley veterans. Wittusen previously worked for Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs. Holtman earlier worked for Soltis Investment Advisors and Presidio Wealth Management. Farr is co-founder of Uinta.

The team includes office manager and registered client services associate Jana Berry, and client service associate, Kristin Craddock.

In terms of reputational risk, Williams thinks Uinta has landed at the right place

“Nobody’s perfect,” he says. “But the kind of business that Raymond James does isn’t going to get them in trouble.”

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