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Can Old Wall Street Firm Re-Emerge as Boutique RIA?

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Lots of folks know the Wall Street name E. F. Hutton, which returned to its roots and became an independent firm again in 2012. Now, C.J. Lawrence, which has even deeper roots in the business, is making a similar move.

The Wall Street firm, founded in 1864, is back in business on its own as an RIA after being acquired by Morgan Grenfell in 1986 (and later by Deutsche Bank).

But – to borrow a phrase for E.F. Hutton’s famous ad – will people listen?

“We are investment managers and trusted advisors at the same time, with a unique level of experience,” said CEO Bernhard Koepp, in an interview with ThinkAdvisor. “We have a lot of history and embrace it.”

The key players in the RIA have worked together for 25 years, Koepp adds, noting that C.J. Lawrence is “in our DNA.”

The firm – which very much views itself as a boutique — has about $550 million in its RIA and is focused on growing its base of high-net-worth clients. It also sells three unit investment trust portfolios in cooperation with Advisors Asset Management; the products are used by wirehouse and other advisors in managed accounts.

“For over a century the name C.J. Lawrence has been synonymous with high-quality investment advice,” said Chairman Jim Moltz, in a statement. “Our goal is to achieve the optimal balance between total return and risk management with first-class personal service.”

Clients can choose from about 10 custodial firms, Koepp says, though Fidelity is the de facto custodian. “We are agnostic about this,” he explained.

Many of C.J. Lawrence’s current clients have worked in financial services. “They want institutional-quality investment and advice services,” the CEO said. “They are business owners who may want to increase or decrease exposure to a sector. Our portfolios are customized, very tailor made.”

And though the firm works with the wirehouses, it take a different approach to investing. “We are not short term. Our clients hate to pay taxes, so we focus on long-term gains, low turnover and minimizing taxation,” Koepp explained.

“We don’t knock the wirehouse business. It just is not who we are.”

The strength of the firm’s DNA, he says, comes from the fact that “We own the firm… we eat what we kill and invest ourselves in our portfolios. We don’t push products … or secondary research.”

In addition to high portfolio turnover, the advisors and staff at the large broker-dealers move around a lot, too, according to the CEO. “Our clients want continuity of service, consistency of advice and independent thought.”

By relaunching the brand, “We are not going back 100-plus years,” Koepp said. “We are building and sharing an investment offering that meets the needs of today’s high-net-worth investors.”

— Check out How a Fast-Growing RIA Gets Referrals on ThinkAdvisor.


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