First Republic Nabs Merrill Investment Guru Chris Wolfe
First Republic, the fast-growing West Coast-based bank and private wealth management company, has hired a high-profile investment strategist from Merrill Lynch as its chief investment officer, according to three well-placed sources.
Christopher J. Wolfe, head of Merrill Wealth Management’s Chief Investment Office with primary responsibility for presenting strategies to the firm’s wealthiest clients in the private banking investment and institutional group (PBIG), will join the San Francisco-based company this summer after a “garden leave,” they said.
First Republic has been aggressively recruiting top advisers with rich packages and paying high premiums for small wealth management firms, with a particularly strong pipeline into Merrill Lynch. Fueled by clients of recent recruits such as James Marchetti and David Breslin of Merrill and Credit Suisse’s Dagny Maidman—who were themselves lured by former PBIG regional manager Brian Riley in the past year—the bank’s private wealth assets under management soared 30% last year to $72.3 billion.
In recruiting Wolfe, the bank gains an ambassador skilled at conveying home-office investment policies to advisers and their PBIG clients — a role that has increased in importance as banks and big brokerage firms such as Merrill urge advisors to use model portfolios and eschew custom-built investment programs. First Republic now employs just over 200 advisors and trust officers in 69 offices.
Wolfe, who aside from a brief sojourn at Rockefeller and Co. in 2010 has been with Merrill since October 2006, did not return calls or emails about his decision to move, which involves resettling his family from Connecticut to California.
Two people who have spoken with him said he had expressed frustration with the busy travel schedule he maintained at Merrill, and was intrigued by the opportunity he is getting at First Republic to manage some investor money. Before joining Merrill, Wolfe was briefly a partner at Dover Management LLC running a large-cap U.S. equity fund and a hedge fund.
“He has been a friend to many of us and he will be missed,” PBIG head Phil Sieg and Global Wealth and Investment Management strategy head Chris Hyzy wrote in an internal memo late last week announcing Wolfe’s plans to leave PBIG. “A replacement for Chris will be announced in due course.”
In his near-decade at Merrill, Wolfe witnessed sea changes ranging from Bank of America’s swallowing of the broker-dealer to frequent reorganizations of the bank’s investment strategy groups. Former wealth management strategy head Lisa Shallett and several of her top associates left in 2013, her replacement Ashvin Chhabra departed last July and Bank of America then merged its three autonomous chief investment strategy groups at its U.S. Trust private bank, PBIG and Merrill’s branch system under the hand of U.S. Trust’s Hyzy.
With Wolfe’s departure, MaryAnn Bartels remains as CIO of portfolio solutions for Merrill’s branch system, reporting to Hyzy. Michael Hartnett retains the chief investment strategist title from his perch within BofA Merrill’s research department. The CIO for PBIG typically works with advisors whose clients have at least $5 million of assets.