Kent Christian wasn’t looking to change jobs but when an executive search firm queried him late last year about considering a senior role at Wachovia Securities, it couldn’t help but spark his interest.
And no wonder. It’s a large job with large responsibilities. In fact, Christian, 45, rightly describes his new position as president of Wachovia’s Independent Brokerage Group as a “portfolio.” Under his supervision: the firm’s independent contractor arm, Wachovia Securities Financial Network, as well as its correspondent clearing, Latin America and online discount brokerage groups.
“When I first got the call, because of the name of the job, I thought the position was simply the independent broker channel,” says Christian, who was recruited from Raymond James Financial Services, where he served as head of national sales for the investment management and securities divisions. “When I found out this was one of three channel heads in the firm that share all P&L responsibilities, instantly my interest escalated. [The other two are Wachovia's wirehouse and bank brokerage channels.] And when I heard more about the opportunity: a portfolio of four different businesses, each with its own head,” Christian was hooked.
Christian joins Wachovia Securities, which has more than 10,400 advisors, at a significant time. The nation’s third-largest retail brokerage has expanded greatly through key acquisitions, including Prudential Securities. And it’s become an industry leader when it comes to open architecture and advisor choice.
Clearly, Christian himself is focused on a growth strategy, particularly in the Wachovia Securities Financial Network, or Fi-Net, space. Just five years old, Fi-Net, with 480 advisors, is the firm’s fastest-growing business segment. Last year, assets increased by 24 percent.
“We think the independent contractor proposition still resonates very well in the marketplace, with financial advisors as well as clients. It’s a natural growth opportunity to stay on the leading edge in that space,” notes Christian.
Fi-Net advisors tend to be heavy hitters with mature practices and an average practice production of $650,000. Over the next year, Christian hopes to build a network of as many as 700 advisors through organic growth and, possibly, acquisition.
As he puts it, “We don’t believe acquisition is a required element for our growth strategy, but we certainly want to be attentive and opportunistic as things unfold in the marketplace.”
Christian, who has a degree in economics from Duke University, spent the majority of his career with Bank of America Corp. and its predecessor firms. Among other things, he worked in the capital markets arena, built a retail brokerage presence in Texas and held a variety of home office roles for the broker/dealer, including national sales manager.
He left Bank of America in 2000 to become a principal in a small investment management firm in Santa Barbara, Calif. He had been with Raymond James since 2003.
Christian’s hire by Wachovia Securities ended an exhaustive nine-month search, according to David Monday, the firm’s chief growth and productivity officer and head of the Individual Investor Group. Christian succeeded Monday as president of the Independent Brokerage Group.
“Kent’s broad experience was a key factor in our choice. He has experience in both the traditional as well as the independent brokerage world,” said Monday, who led the search for his successor. “In addition, we were impressed with his thorough understanding of how the industry has evolved over the last 10 years and a clear vision of where the industry needs to move to meet the needs of the investor community. He has wonderful instincts at managing the pace of change that comes with the position. The icing on the cake for us has been Kent’s friendly demeanor, great judgment and good humor.”
Christian says he was attracted from the start to Wachovia’s signature characteristic: a national firm wrapped in a regional culture.
“I immediately latched onto the culture of the firm, in particular to the character, if you will, of the leaders I was spending time with. Their sense of dedication and commitment to the firm, dedication to high standards and dedication to each other — it really came out. There’s a quality of character I call ‘pleasant humility.’ I didn’t hear one person tell me how great they were; it’s how great the firm is,” he adds. “It’s about teamwork, not superstars. That’s very much my own personality.”
At the moment, Christian is focusing on several new initiatives.
For starters, he is “refreshing” the firm’s strategy on the RIA space, considering options and opportunities. “I want to make sure we understand the implications of fee-only and where that marketplace is today,” he says. “It’s got its own growth trajectory and dynamic. I want to make sure we are on top of it.”
He’s also looking to expand Wachovia’s Latin American business. At present, the firm has six offices in South America, with support satellites in Miami and San Juan. He hopes to develop the advisory network through an organic recruiting and growth strategy as well as add other gateway offices in the U.S. to service non-resident alien clients.
“I believe there’s plenty of business and opportunity out there,” says Christian. “My job is to make sure I and my team compete and win.”
President, Independent Brokerage Group,
Home base: Richmond, Va.
Sound bite: “Part of our value proposition is to have a team of advocates at the home office who truly want to partner with independent advisors.”