ON THE MOVE-HighTower lands veteran Merrill Lynch adviser team

Tue Feb 19, 2013 2:59pm EST

Feb 19 (Reuters) - HighTower Advisors LLC, an independent adviser-owned firm that has grown by hiring away from top U.S. brokerages, said on Tuesday it added a veteran adviser team from Bank of America Corp's Merrill Lynch.

Advisers Greg Sarian and Frank Masse moved to HighTower on Friday from Merrill, where they managed $650 million in client assets and were based in the firm's Wayne, Pennsylvania, office. They rank among the top adviser teams in the Philadelphia area.

"Advisers are constantly evaluating where the best place is to serve their clients," Sarian said in an interview, noting that he and Masse first began looking at the possibility of moving in January 2012.

He said they eventually settled on HighTower because of the firm's independent adviser model that caters to affluent clients.

"The infrastructure that they built for teams like ours was attractive," said Sarian. "We really took a hard look at all the models ... we had been where we were for 20 years, and we were not interested in going through this process again."

Chicago-based HighTower, formed in 2008, has attracted many breakaway broker teams, like the Sarian Group, who want to become independent and free from attachment to big banks.

The model allows groups to work with several independent securities brokers, or custodians, such as Charles Schwab , Fidelity and Bank of New York Mellon's Pershing, instead of keeping all of their clients' assets with one custodian, a common practice at the brokerages of big firms. This relieves advisers from the pressure of pushing proprietary products on their clients.

Sarian, who had been at Merrill for two decades, was a senior vice president and was named to Barron's 2013 list of top advisers. Masse had been at Merrill for more than a decade and joined Sarian in 2003.

The advisers joined HighTower as partners and managing directors based in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. They specialize in working with emerging life sciences companies and their executives.

Bank of America did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the departures.

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