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Wells Fargo woes, bureaucracy spur veteran team’s indie move

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Compliance delays, a lack of client customization solutions, and damaging revelations compelled a team of longtime Wells Fargo advisors to leave the mammoth bank for greener pastures of their own making.

On Wednesday, advisors Asa Graves, his father A. Wesley Graves and J. Douglas Light opened their own independent firm, Graves-Light Private Wealth Management, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The trio, which has worked together since 2007, expects to manage $700 million in assets for clients in Northern Virginia, the Richmond metro area, and Shenandoah Valley.

“In the last five years it became increasingly difficult for us to operate at Wells Fargo,” says the younger Graves. “A large part of why we decided to leave is that Wells Fargo is such a large institution. It has been in the press frequently for negative things and that weighed on our clients’ minds. There is also concern that these firms are too large to manage. Getting things through compliance took an increasingly long time. The way we served clients changed and large BDs were corralling in advisors’ ability to customize solutions.”

Graves is not alone in his concerns. His and his fellow advisors’ departures follow a long-running decline in head count at the wirehouse. In the second quarter of this year, Wells Fargo reported having 860 fewer advisors than it did in the third quarter of 2016 when the company’s consumer banking scandals first came to light.

The Graves-Light team hopes their move to a new business model will help them better control the client experience.

“In pursuing independence, we can prioritize [clients’] best interests — without being beholden to a distant home office that doesn’t necessarily know what’s best for them,” Graves said in a press statement.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman declined to comment on the group’s departure.

Joining the advisors as a founding partner is Jeffrey G. Lenhart, an attorney with 30 years of experience. Lenhart was a founding member of Virginia-based law firm Lenhart Pettit and specialized in tax law, estate planning and business law. He will guide clients on legal matters and identify potential legal issues, but not draw up legal documentation, according to the team.

“Another perk of becoming independent is that Jeff could join. He would never have been able to join Wells Fargo and operate in the way we envision,” Asa Graves says. “Jeff will provide clients with expertise on how to legally coordinate their financial lives and prevent clients from doing something that could cause trouble with their trusts or the way legal documents were written.”

He also added that the inclusion of Lenhart in the practice may give them an edge when competing for clients' business.

Before joining his father, A. Wesley Graves, at his individual investor practice in 2002, the younger Graves worked as a senior research analyst and portfolio manager for 11 years. In 2006 and 2007, he made On Wall Street’s Top 40 Advisors Under 40, and in 2015 was named one of the top 400 financial advisors by The Financial Times.

The senior Graves has 50 years of experience, beginning his investment consulting career in 1968 with Branch Cabell and Co. before moving to First Union Capital Markets, where he worked for 27 years. He has spent the last 18 years with Wells Fargo, according to his FINRA BrokerCheck record.

Light has 15 years of experience as a financial advisor with Wells Fargo, according to his FINRA BrokerCheck record.

Rounding out the team are senior client associates Kara Morgan and Angela Moats.

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