JHS Capital Advisors is aiming for another year of growth -- but 2012 will be a tough act to follow.

The three-year-old Tampa-based broker-dealer and RIA has opened a new office in Sebring, Fla., bringing on 17-year Merrill Lynch veteran Kelly Connelly as a financial advisor and first vice president of investments.

Over the past year, JHS has more than doubled its number of offices around the country, while the number of the firm’s advisors and broker-dealers nearly doubled, going from 82 in 2011 to 160 this year. Client assets overseen by the firm jumped more than 50% as well, from $2.1 billion at the end of 2011 to $3.3 billion at the end of last year.

Key to the growth last year, however, was the firm's addition of 70 advisors via its acquisition of Paulson Investment Co. in Portland, Ore. It’s unlikely JHS will grow as rapidly as it did last year, chief operating officer Frank McPartland conceded in an interview -- but he said JHS will continue to expand through additional acquisitions, recruiting and organic growth.

JHS, a private company founded in 2009 by call center magnate John Sykes after he bought and re-named Boca Raton-based Pointe Capital, hopes to crack Financial Planning’s list of top 50 independent broker-dealers in two or three years, McPartland said. To accomplish that goal for 2012, JHS would have needed at least $83 million in total revenues. Currently, the firm is about “half-way there,” according to McPartland; while he declined to give total revenue numbers, he said revenues increased 180% from 2011 to 2012.

Since acquisitions are unpredictable, recruiting will clearly be critical to the firm’s continued growth. JHS is looking for brokers and advisors attracted to a smaller firm environment, where they can receive more attention and be “known by their first name,” McPartland said; in particular, he added, the firm is targeting the Midwest for growth. Brokers and advisors “looking for a large check” need not apply, he declared. “We don’t try to compete for that business.”

But JHS, like all small broker-dealers, faces an uphill battle in the cut-throat competition for talent, said Danny Sarch, founder and principal of Leitner Sarch Consultants, an executive search firm based in White Plains, N.Y.

“It’s very hard for any small firm,” Sarch said. “There are so many now and everybody is competing for the same pool of people. You can have a nice story about how wonderful you are, but everybody has a nice story about how wonderful they are. If you can’t offer more money to move your book of business, it’s hard to differentiate yourself.”

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