December 9, 2010

Raymond James FS Bank-Advisor Group Positioned for Rapid Growth

Raymond James affiliate is using industry experience, connections to add financial advisors

Jeff Vitt, president of Tower Financial, is giving boutique firms like Baird and Barclays Wealth a run for their money.

Tower, based in Conshohocken, Penn., is an affiliate of Raymond James Financial Services. The group now has 14 advisors about $300 million in assets and is on a fast-track when it comes to recruiting.

“We should be at 30-40 advisors a year from now,” Vitt said in a phone interview with AdvisorOne on Dec. 3.

Tower Financial’s CEO is Thomas Christopher, who was with Wachovia for 15 years.

“Advisors like to work for someone who can help them grow their business or, if they prefer, have a better lifestyle,” said Vitt, adding that he’s been in the business for 20 years and was a manager of the year at Wachovia in 2004.”  

Vitt left Wells Fargo Advisors a few months after it acquired Wachovia in late 2008 and has been building a sizeable practice ever since. When he left Wells Fargo, he was overseeing nine branches with about $50 million in yearly revenues.

After exploring other options, “I wanted the benefits of independence with the luxury of a wirehouse or a bank environment,” Vitt said. “And now I seek to provide that to others and have started bringing people on board with me, many of whom I’ve worked with or have known through the industry.”

While it’s been trimming its book of smaller clients, the firm is seeking to grow geographically. “Our focus is mainly in areas 90 miles north and south of Philadelphia, including southern New Jersey and Delaware,” said Vitt, 43, who also does consulting for the banking sector via Triumph Partners.

“We are talking to lots of folks from everywhere,” he explained. “While at first I brought on advisors that I had worked with at Wachovia, we are now in talks with advisors from lots of firms and from all channels.”

What makes Tower Financial's arrangements unique is that advisors have the benefits of both independence and traditional branch and banking arrangements, according to Vitt.

“Some advisors are looking for a manager or operations persons and others to share best practices with, or maybe they are looking for more bank relationships,” he noted. “We are unusual in providing advisors with this rather than asking them to be solely responsible for finding their own business. We feel it’s important to provide advisors with avenues to do more business.”

As it reaches out to expand arrangements with banks that want to add investment programs, Tower enjoys strong support from Raymond James, Vitt says, and the financial institutions it seeks to partner with are pleased with Tower’s affiliation with Raymond James.

Dan Mallard, national sales manager of Raymond James Financial’ financial-institutions division, which includes more than 600 independent advisors, out of 5,300 companywide, says that Vitt’s growth strategy isn’t typical for this division.

While Raymond James cannot represent both the buyer and seller in advisor transactions, it does represent Vitt in some cases, Mallard says.

And as advisors come into the firm that might make sense for Tower Financial to enter discussions with, “Jeff turns to us for advice, not legal, but about compensation and how to structure different deals,” Mallard explained, in a phone interview on Monday.

“We’re glad to offer him flexibility and other benefits,” the RJFS executive said. “We have an excellent relationship with Jeff and his team and are here to support him in any way we can.”

It’s a win-win situation,” said Vitt, adding that Tower expects to announce new partnerships with some financial institutions in his area early 2011. “We’re in the final stages of these negotiations.”

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