Raymond James advisors fire back at ‘baseless’ JPMorgan claims in non-solicit lawsuit
Baseless, frivolous and utterly false.
That’s how an advisory team responded to a JPMorgan lawsuit that accused the trio of violating non-solicitation agreements and improperly taking confidential information with them to their new employer, Raymond James.
And claims that advisors Nathan Shields and Mark Obrzut solicited clients in a JPMorgan office after resigning from the company are “wholly without merit,” the advisors say in court filings.
The advisors say “there has been no contractual violation, no removal of any client information.”
The heated quarrel ― which involves client assets of approximately $270 million ― is the most recent example of firms and advisors butting heads over client contacts. JPMorgan, for example, has filed several lawsuits in recent months against advisors who jumped to rivals and then contacted former clients, allegedly in violation of non-solicitation agreements.
Shields, Obrzut and fellow teammate Jackson Stewart have moved more than 20 accounts totaling $30 million since they transitioned their practice to Raymond James’ employee channel on Aug. 3, according to JPMorgan’s complaint filed last week in federal court.
The bank claims it learned of alleged violations of non-solicitation agreements the trio signed while employees from clients who complained to the firm of being called by the advisors seeking to move their accounts to their new employer.
The Carmel, Indiana-based advisors say they relied only on memory and publicly available sources of information to contact clients and then only to let clients know they had resigned from JPMorgan.
“If the client asked, they told them that they joined Raymond James and provided the client with their new contact information,” the team says in its legal filing.
The advisors also deny JPMorgan claims that Shields and Obrzut, who had been bank channel advisors before joining Raymond James, had visited one of their former employer’s branch offices and solicited a client there.
Shields and Obrzut contend they had visited a branch office on Sept. 10 because JPMorgan had, “without notice,” administratively closed their personal banking accounts following their resignation. While at the branch, they ran into and chatted with a client who had already transferred her accounts to Raymond James, according to their legal filing.
The No. 1 independent broker-dealer has grown beyond the wirehouses, but it added about 100 fewer advisors than expected from its major acquisition.
"If our profession truly cares about the well-being of our clients to the extent that the profession professes, then we need to swing this pendulum in the other direction," Elwyn says.
Finally, the advisors deny JPMorgan’s “frivolous” allegation that they had given two clients advance notice of their impending move to Raymond James in the hope that those clients would transfer their assets to the regional brokerage firm. They did no such thing, they say.
“If defendants were soliciting clients in advance of their resignation, then there would be some indication that they spoke to more than 2 of their 927 clients about their plans,” the team says in its legal filing. (JPMorgan said in its lawsuit that the trio had served more than 770 clients.)
The team also adds a complaint of their own, that JPMorgan employees have been advising clients that Shields, Obrzut and Steward would be unable to service their accounts; that the advisors are prohibited from talking to clients; that they make investment decisions based on the compensation they would receive; and that they “do not care about their clients and only joined Raymond James to benefit themselves financially.”
“These statements are false and have damaged, and will continue to damage, defendants’ reputations with their clients,” the team’s legal filing says.
A spokeswoman for JPMorgan declined to comment on the case. A spokeswoman for Raymond James, which is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was unavailable for immediate comment.
The advisors are being represented by Bernard Lowell Pylitt and Sally Zweig of law firm Katz Korin Cunningham in Indianapolis. They did not return a request for comment.
JPMorgan’s high-end brokerage unit, J.P. Morgan Securities, is a member of the Broker Protocol, an industrywide accord that permits advisors who switch firms to take basic client contact information with them. JPMorgan’s other advisors, including those in its bank channel and private bank, are not protected by the protocol’s provisions. Raymond James is a signatory to the accord, which has more than 1,700 members.