United Capital's new CIO has had an 'unlikely' career path

Kara Murphy never thought she'd end up on Wall Street — or be in one of the World Trade Center towers attacked on 9/11

Jun 13, 2018 @ 5:15 pm

By Jeff Benjamin

Kara Murphy has packed her belongings and shipped them across the country to Dallas from New York for the next stage of a career that she still defines as "unlikely."

Ms. Murphy, a 20-year veteran of the financial services industry, becomes the first female chief investment officer at United Capital Financial Advisors.

Prior to joining United Capital, Ms. Murphy was the CIO of SunAmerica Asset Management.

Ms. Murphy, 45, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in international politics and economics, found her way into the financial services industry after relocating to New York from Chicago to be near her ailing father.

"I ended up on Wall Street by accident, because I never had any intention of going in this direction," she said.

Less than two years into her first job in financial services, while working for the chief investment officer of Morgan Stanley, Ms. Murphy was working in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Last year, she detailed the harrowing experience of descending 72 floors through a smoke-filled stairwell while the building was crumbling around her along with thousands of others.

In terms of her long-since adopted career on Wall Street, which is now located in Texas, Ms. Murphy said it proves there are benefits to moving outside your comfort zone.

"I found this amazing career that I didn't even know anything about," she said. "I tell people all the time to put this on your radar, because it could be a tremendous opportunity for you. A lot of times we self-select out of careers if we don't see ourselves represented there."

Ms. Murphy becomes part of an eight-person executive team at the RIA roll-up business with $22 billion under management and a fast-growing FinLife platform designed to dramatically spread United Capital's reach into the independent advisory space. The suite includes a client portal, communication tools, financial planning and AdvisorCenter, a central hub for advisers to track and manage client relationships. AdvisorCenter syncs information between the United Capital technology and the adviser's CRM and portfolio accounting system.

Ms. Murphy, who oversees a team including chief investment strategist Bob Landy, investment management advocate Christian Yoss, and head of investment operations David Hallman, explains her role as leveraging the investment side to expand the overall business of United Capital.

"We will be moving the platform toward a certain number of goals, including best-in-class investment management, and innovative investment solutions delivered in a cost-effective way, with the adviser being the central focus," she said.

Ms. Murphy will be using her expertise to build out the product offerings for both United Capital advisers and the growing ranks of outside advisers using the FinLife platform. First on the agenda, she said, is increasing access to alternative investment products and socially responsible strategies.

United Capital founder and CEO Joe Duran said Ms. Murphy is filling a position that has been vacant for a couple of years, and that she is coming on board just in time to help with the growth expectations for FinLife CX, a white-label version of the company's technology and investment platform aimed at outside advisory firms.

Mr. Duran counts more than $8 billion worth of "assets under contract" from outside advisers already using the FinLife CX platform, and he expects that number to reach $20 billion by year end.

The investment-only part of the FinLife platform has $500 million from outside advisers, and Mr. Duran expects that total to exceed $1 billion by year end.

United Capital charges outside advisers $600 annually per client to access the technology and services platform.

The fee for the investments-only portion of the platform starts at 15 basis points.

"Kara will be building solutions for our FinLife adviser clients so they want to use our investment platforms for more of their clients," he said. "It's very difficult for independent advisory firms to create new investments, but we can leverage our size to invest in people like Kara to make the investment solutions."

In terms of Ms. Murphy being United Capital's first female CIO, Mr. Duran said gender was not the driving factor in the decision to hire her, but he does value the message it sends to other women at the company.

"I'm proud of it because we get to diversify, but it wasn't the dominant reason," he said. "It's important to have the diversity of perspective from a mom and a wife and a female executive. We have a lot of female up and comers in our company and it's good for them to see we don't care what your gender is. We just want people to be great."

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