It sounds like an old-fashioned Hollywood movie: Can a traditional multifamily office from an obscure corner of upstate New York make it in the big city?
Corning, N.Y.-based Market Street Trust is about to find out.
Founded by the Houghton family in 1909 to help manage the fortune the family made from its glass business, Market Street has firmly established itself as a quality midsize MFO with approximately $1.3 billion in assets under management. It offers well-respected advisory, trust and investment services and has a loyal clientele of about three dozen wealthy families -- who, thanks to the firm's shared ownership model, all have an equity stake in the company.
But to continue as a sustainable, independent business in an era of increasing consolidation and fierce competition, Market Street needs to grow. Corning isn't exactly a wealth management hot spot; the Houghton family, now in its seventh generation, still accounts for about 80% of Market Street's assets.
To expand into the lucrative New York City market, Market Street made what many in the industry are calling a shrewd tactical move: It tapped an extremely well-respected industry veteran to open and head its new Gotham office.
Rob Elliott, who recently retired as a senior managing director with Bessemer Trust, one of the leading wealth management firms in Manhattan, "is the definitive eminence grise," says industry consultant Jamie McLaughlin. "He can tell the Market Street story to key centers of influence and families with wealth.
"Any other business developer might take two to two and a half years to ramp up," McLaughlin adds. "Rob will do it in a relatively shorter time frame given his reputation and visibility -- although he will still need at least 18 months."
The 68-year old Elliott, who began his career at Bessemer in 1975, says he just "wasn't ready for retirement" -- and that, after serving on Market Street's board of directors, he found that he liked the firm's collegial culture and personalized, high-touch approach. "Market Street has proved it can build relationships that are lasting," Elliott says. "I think helping clients is the best part of this business, and that there will be more of a need for that than ever as the issues for wealthy families become more complex."
SEEKING OFFICE, THEN CLIENTS
His first priority, however, is to find prime office space in midtown Manhattan. Once that's taken care of -- he's in temporary quarters for now -- Market Street will bring in sales and service staff, and begin the daunting task of prospecting. The target market: wealthy families with at least $30 million in investable assets, as well as single family offices with assets of $100 million to $300 million who are looking to outsource some of their investment and back office workload or "tuck in" to Market Street's infrastructure.
Market would be happy to bring in two to four target market families a year, according to Elliott, in addition to business from single family offices.
That's easier said than done, of course, in New York's highly competitive ultrahigh-net-worth market.
Market Street will be going up against industry giants like Bessemer itself; big Wall Street names like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citibank; and successful independent RIAs such as Evercore Wealth Management, Tiedemann Wealth Management, Manchester Capital Management and Silvercrest Asset Management.
What's more, Market Street is hardly the only new kid on the block fighting for market share. In the past few years a host of equally ambitious wealth management and family office firms -- including WE Family Offices, Lebenthal Wealth Advisors, SCS Financial Services and Cantor Fitzgerald -- have either hung out a shingle or ramped up their UHNW business in New York.
"Most successful UHNW New Yorkers are sophisticated, savvy individuals who expect best-in-class wealth management services [and] exceptional advisors who are capable of being a strategic partner, providing financial and non-financial solutions and coordinating all activities for the family," says Steve Prostano, an industry consultant for firms targeting the UHNW and family office market. "A well-known brand that represents these characteristics would appeal to New Yorkers, as would a brand that is philanthropically oriented."
That could be a challenge for Market Street, he notes. While the firm's heritage and experience with wealthy families, philanthropy and trust issues -- as well as Elliott's stellar reputation and contacts -- work in the firm's favor, "they do not have a nationally known brand, and they will need to build awareness in the New York market," says Prostano, the former chief executive of Silver Bridge Advisors.
New Yorkers may also, Prostano says, have questions "about the caliber of talent within the firm" -- which, with the exception of Elliott, will remain primarily in Corning.
Nor is Market Street's client ownership model for everybody. Families may simply want to purchase wealth management and family office services, without becoming owners, contributing capital or taking on the responsibilities that come with an equity stake, Prostano says.
Elliott, who oversaw business development and marketing at Bessemer, readily acknowledges Market Street's "lack of visibility" in New York. He says the firm will host "selective events" to become better known, including forums on family office issues and a "Women in Wealth" series showcasing both clients and executives such as the firm's president and chief executive officer Marianne Young.
Prostano isn't wholly pessimistic. "With the right positioning and investment by Market Street, they can be highly successful in New York and build a leading national brand and firm," he says.
McLaughlin agrees: "Market Street has a strong business with fixed costs in place and a proven, replicable service model. It's just sub-scale and geographically challenged in Corning."
After helping to build Bessemer into a $20 billion-plus powerhouse over nearly four decades, Elliott knows the challenges and potential of the wealth management market as well as anyone. And he contends that Market Street's ownership model, trust experience and long history of working with families who have been successful business owners will also prove to be advantageous.
The ultra-high end of the market has become "more crowded and more competitive," Elliott admits. "The good news is that they haven't outlawed wealth creation," he says. "I think there's still plenty of wealth in America that needs advice."
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