Convergent pushes for growth in millionaire market

The firm, which previously focused exclusively on ultra-high-net-worth clients, has added an executive and created a platform

Dec 18, 2013 @ 11:55 am

By Trevor Hunnicutt

An independent advisory firm whose forte is managing money for über-wealthy clients on the coasts is making a push inland and down-market.

Convergent Wealth Advisors has hired Richard L. Wells, a 16-year veteran of Fisher Investments, one of the country's largest independent advisers, as managing director, according to Convergent's president and chief operating officer, Douglas L. Wolford.

Mr. Wells will, at first, focus on developing high-net-worth clients in the Atlanta area before turning to other regions, Mr. Wolford said.

The hire is the latest effort by Convergent, which has grown successful in part by being selective, to become somewhat less choosy by targeting somewhat-less-wealthy prospects than it has in the past. The firm, which is based in Los Angeles and Washington, has built its business around advising clients with more than $10 million to invest, including specialties such as defense contractors and entertainers. Altogether the firm's clients have about $11 billion in investments.

Convergent is trying to ramp up its business with prospects who invest between $1 million and $10 million in financial markets. By adding Mr. Wells to the team, the firm hopes to kick-start the growth of its business as a national brand.

“They're really putting their flag in the ground,” said April Rudin, chief executive and founder of wealth marketing firm The Rudin Group. “It certainly signals that Convergent is serious about sales.”

Mr. Wells was a senior sales executive at Fisher, a more broad-market adviser that manages nearly $43.9 billion around the country.

He helped launch the firm's private-client group and build a $750 million book of business, according to his LinkedIn profile.

A phone call to Fisher Investments seeking comment wasn't returned.

To boost its expansion, Convergent's executives created a platform, Independence by Convergent, which provides access to financial advisers mostly by phone and video conference. But clients can also visit advisers in person at one of the firm's four offices, which besides the headquarters, include New York and Portland, Ore.

The platform has attracted $500 million in assets, which the firm said represents growth of nearly 100% in less than a year.

Convergent, whose parent company was bought in 2007 by City National Corp., is the latest top adviser to grow by selling pared-down service. In October, Mariner Wealth Advisors launched a firm, FirstPoint Financial, which has no minimum account balance.

Mr. Wells will emulate his previous efforts in the new role, reaching out to prospects through direct marketing online and by mail, Mr. Wolford said.

The firm sees Atlanta as an attractive region because of its healthy pool of wealthy investors and the possibility of expanding its brand to a new region.

“What we hadn't done was isolate a market where we don't have any material presence, where we don't have very much brand recognition and see what we can do with direct-response marketing,” Mr. Wolford said.

The Atlanta area is home to two of the country's top 50 fee-only advisers, Ronald Blue & Co. and Homrich Berg.

The leafy, traffic-congested city is also home to Coca-Cola Co., Cox Communications Inc., Delta Air Lines, Home Depot USA Inc. and

Newell Rubbermaid Inc., as well as a burgeoning entrepreneurial community growing out of its educational institutions such as Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology.

Convergent's efforts are shrewd, despite the fact that Atlanta's wealthy could easily go to an existing adviser that would serve them in person, said David DeVoe, managing partner at investment banking consulting firm DeVoe & Co.

Younger investors are more comfortable online, after all.

“It's enabling Convergent to go after a younger client base,” Mr. DeVoe said. “You're investing in the future and creating a service model that caters to the needs of the younger, more tech-savvy generation.”

Lower-end clients also could prove more profitable for Convergent than its existing clients, Mr. DeVoe said.

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