A Morgan Stanley duo that managed approximately $200 million in client assets left to join Steward Partners, an independent firm affiliated with Raymond James Financial Services.

Their main reason for moving? They wanted greater control over their practice.

"This is a partnership and we have a say in the business. That doesn't happen anywhere else," says Timothy Davis, who joined Steward Partners in Boston with his teammate Michaelyn Bortolotti.

They're the latest advisors to jump from the wirehouse to independent channel amid recruiting cutbacks at UBS, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch. While Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch haven’t said publicly how far they’ve reduced recruiting, UBS has said it aimed for a 40% cut.

Independent firms and regional brokerages, meanwhile, have ramped up hiring this year, luring top talent with promises of less bureaucracy and more freedom to structure their practices as they see fit. RBC Wealth Management and Janney Montgomery Scott have both said they've picked up more advisors this year than they did in 2016.

Through the first nine months of this year, the wirehouses have recruited advisors who managed more than $14 billion in client assets, according to hiring announcements. Their smaller rivals have announced new hires who managed about $60 billion.

For its part, Steward Partners has been on a roll, picking up 25 new wealth managements who oversaw more than $2.5 billion in assets, the Washington-based firm says. Steward Partners, which was founded in 2013, has grown to ten offices.

Indeed, Davis and Bortolotti joined Steward Partners' Boston branch, which opened earlier this year when three teams overseeing about $600 million joined the independent partnership.

"When I go out there and meet with recruits, this is a model that resonates," Divisional President Jim Connors says.

LEVEL PLAYING FIELD
Davis is a veteran wirehouse advisor who started his career at Merrill Lynch in 1998, according to FINRA BrokerCheck records. He's been with Morgan Stanley and predecessor firm Smith Barney since 2008.

Bortolotti got her start in the industry at Smith Barney in 2006, staying on after the firm's acquisition by Morgan Stanley. Also joining the team is Michael Carilli, who will serve as senior registered client administrative manager. He previous worked at Fidelity.

The team specializes in serving publicly traded corporations and their executives, and their work extends to pre-IPO and M&A planning.

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Raymond James grabbed five multi-million teams in a month. Other firms to see big transitions include Wells Fargo and Ameriprise.

"In a lot of cases, the company's stock is the equivalent of a lottery ticket. Our goal is to help you diversify," Davis says.

He cites Steward Partners' relationship with Raymond James, which provides custody and other services to the independent partnership, as an additional reason behind their move. Davis says his team can tap Raymond James' corporate and executive services for additional support for his executive clientele.

But in talking about the reasons for their move out of the wirehouse channel, Davis also emphasizes how the industry has changed, noting that technology and other factors have commoditized products and services, eroding the edge that the biggest brokerage firms once held over their smaller rivals.

"If what you can get at a major bank versus a regional investment firm is largely the same, then what's the difference? It's going to be the people you work with," he says.