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Harris, M&I Banks Merge Broker-Dealers

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BMO Financial Group merged financial advisors from Harris Bank of Chicago and M&I Bank of Milwaukee to form BMO Harris Financial Advisors on Wednesday. The group includes 165 financial advisors serving clients in 11 states.

The U.S. advisors have about $2.5 billion in discretionary assets under management and more than $9 billion in brokerage assets, according to BMO Financial, which is based in Toronto.

“Consolidating our broker-dealer business into a single entity will enable us to focus on servicing mass-affluent retail investors looking for the best minds to address their financial planning and wealth-management needs,” said Mike Miroballi (left), president of BMO Harris Financial Advisors in Chicago, in an interview with AdvisorOne. (Mass-affluent clients are defined as those with $250,000 to $1 million in investable assets.)

The merging of Harris Bank and M&I Bank’s broker-dealers follows the acquisition of M&I Bank by BMO in July 2011. This year, Miroballi says, the private bank, retail bank and commercial bank operations will be integrated as well.

BMO Harris Bank has more than 650 branches in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota, Nevada, Arizona and Florida. “M&I was in Wisconsin, Indiana and other parts of the Midwest and West that we weren’t and vice-versa,” Miroballi said.

“The advisors focus on financial planning and wealth management, and they offer services such as asset management, insurance, income planning, education planning and retirement planning,” Miroballi continued. “They all use Pershing for clearing work, back-office solutions and financial advisor technology platform, the Albridge wealth-reporting platform and Envestnet’s end-to-end money management platform for proposal generation, investment management and performance reporting.”

According to BMO Harris, its advisors use in-house asset-allocation strategies that incorporate third-party managers and proprietary funds for clients. The mutual-fund offerings range from the BMO Managed Asset Allocation Program (MAAP) to BMO Strategic Fund Portfolios, which is among the first bank-sponsored all-exchange traded fund (ETF) managed money solutions in the industry, the organization says.

Growth Prospects

“What drives our expansion is what is driving BMO’s bank expansion. As that footprint grows, we will grow with it geographically,” Miroballi says. BMO Harris Bank is most likely to boost its branch network in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, Minnesota and other states where it now has operations, he notes.

“We are absolutely going to expand our recruiting efforts and are looking to grow our number of advisors,” he added.

The 165 advisors now part of its operations have the Series 7 and 65 designations, and many also have the CFP, chartered financial consultant (ChFC), chartered life underwriter (CLU) and other designations, as well as insurance licenses.

“We really support advanced our advisors training and getting designations. We have a formal reimbursement program and consider this a key strategy,” Miroballi said.

On Friday, Harris Private Bank released a report that a slight increase in U.S. income levels and stagnant spending in June suggested “Americans are using their earnings to increase their savings and pay down household debt” and marked “a reversal from consumer trends seen in the last decade.”

According to Chief Investment Officer Jack Albin, the trend towards saving more and spending less could “have a negative impact on the growth of the economy.”