Ex-Merrill UHNW Broker Lands at Boston Private in San Francisco
Former Merrill Lynch ultra-high net worth broker Christopher R. Berry, who was dismissed in June after having an assistant complete required training on his behalf, has found a new home with Boston Private Financial Holdings’ private wealth unit.
Berry, a 22-year industry veteran, registered as an investment advisor at Boston Private Wealth in San Francisco on August 27th, according to Securities and Exchange Commission registration records.
A Boston Private spokeswoman confirmed the hire but declined to comment on the size of his practice or his departure from Merrill.
“Chris is a talented wealth advisor and we’re pleased to add him to our team,” the spokeswoman said in a statement.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority in July opened its own investigation of Merrill’s discharge notice, according to a separate disclosure on Berry’s BrokerCheck record.
But Boston Private may have felt comfortable given Berry’s own mea culpa appended to his BrokerCheck in which he takes responsibility for handing over his password to an assistant to complete learning modules on his behalf and notes his otherwise unblemished record.
“I have learned from this action and am very embarrassed to have conducted myself in such a manner,” Berry wrote. “This was my first and only infraction of any internal company policies in my career. During my career, I have never had an internal or client complaint, nor any regulatory issues. My actions in this matter were not justified and I have had a good chance for self reflection and correction.”
Boston Private’s decision to hire Berry appears to acknowledge his contrition and also is a vote of confidence that the infraction was relatively minor and did not involve client harm, according to Brian Neville, a New York-based lawyer at Lax and Neville who frequently represents brokers in employment disputes. Berry’s comments could also help mitigate any potential enforcement action by Finra, whose sanction guidelines give credit for leniency for admissions of wrongdoing and remorse, Neville said.
“This is a very good landing,” said Neville, who was not involved with Berry’s case. “Because first- and second-tier firms [such as Boston Private] take a pretty dim view of this, you sometimes have to go RIA-only or go down to what a lot of folks would quantify as a third-tier firm.”
Boston Private has been expanding its wealth management business under Chief Executive Anthony DeChellis, the former CEO of Credit Suisse’s now-defunct Private Banking Americas division who joined Boston Private in November 2018.
In October 2019, it hired another former Merrill private wealth broker Patrick Dwyer, who had generated around $10 million in annual revenue and is also head of strategic business development helping Boston Private recruit outside of its traditional private banking roots.
Berry’s former partner, Richard A. Hogan, a 30-year industry veteran who was also discharged in June over allegations of failing to complete mandatory training, has not registered with a new firm, according to his BrokerCheck record. Hogan, whose alleged violations also included claims of co-investing with clients off of Merrill’s platform, according to the database, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Berry joined Merrill in 2001 and–like Hogan, who has 30 years of experience–earlier worked at MyCFO Securities and Goldman Sachs. Berry co-founded MyCFO’s investment advisory division, according to his Merrill web biography.
He is among a number of high-end brokers who have found themselves in the compliance spotlight in recent years as regulatory scrutiny has increased and major firms have taken a “zero-tolerance policy” toward documentation shortcuts or internal policy violations, according to Neville.
“We get hired several times a year by really good advisors who make these really kind of silly or what I call stupid mistakes that have a significant impact on their careers,” Neville said.
Merrill Lynch in 2018 discharged Chicago producer Bruce K. Lee, a former private wealth star, for having a subordinate complete his training update. A former $7-million producer, Steven A. Mitchell, left UBS in May for violations that included failure to complete mandatory training modules. Lee, who was suspended for 18 months by Finra, opened his own registered investment advisory firm, and Mitchell began in May with a Connecticut RIA.
(Updated to include comment from Boston Private.)