Kestra Financial tapped Kris Chester, an 18-year veteran of Wells Fargo Bank, to be its new COO, bringing expertise in mergers and reorganization to the independent broker-dealer. CEO James Poer has identified his private equity-backed firm as an active buyer on the prowl for attractive M&A deals this year.

Chester most recently served as an executive vice president at Wells Fargo, overseeing more than 750 employees in the bank’s treasury management unit. She led the integration of part of Wachovia’s commercial bank into Wells Fargo’s organization after the two firms’ merger.

Kestra fee-based revenue

Kestra, the No. 13 IBD, purchased H. Beck, the No. 44 IBD, from Securian Financial Group in early December. Poer predicted that M&A deals will heat up in 2018, in part through more plays by the Austin, Texas-based firm with a private equity owner, Stone Point Capital.

Poer characterized Chester’s hiring as outside of “the usual suspects we’ve seen in our space.” While Chester lacks wealth management experience, she cites her time folding in Wachovia’s $2.5 billion treasury management program and later changes at the unit as helpful in the new role.

“My goal has always been to outperform industry benchmarks,” Chester says, noting technology and client services delivery as key areas of focus in the unit’s reorganization. “I think I’ll provide that unique perspective that someone who built their career in the advisory space will not bring.”

A spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Bank confirmed Chester’s departure but declined to make any additional comments.

Chester replaced Kestra’s former COO, John Vanderheyden, who was in the role for eight years, according to FINRA BrokerCheck. Vanderheyden remains with the firm, taking on the job of executive vice president of strategic initiatives, Poer says.

The firm has assigned him to help with H. Beck’s onboarding. Describing the 1,700-advisor firm as in “tremendous growth mode,” Poer says Chester beat out other candidates for the COO post due to her fresh perspective.

“She has a different background from a lot of people in the space,” he says. “Kris brings a very sophisticated, high-level executive acumen to our team.”

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