In the world of financial advising in Rochester, acquisitions are the name of the game. For instance, the Bonadio Group acquired Buffalo-based Vincent J. Muffoletto CPAs and a minority stake in Pittsford’s High Probability Advisors in the past year.
For many in the Western New York market, being acquired is usually the end goal, said Doug Hendee, chief sales officer at Brighton Securities. You build up a reputation and then sell off once you hit a certain point. But that’s not the plan for Brighton Securities. Now entering its 50th year, the firm is proudly independent, and rather than being acquired, they seek becoming an acquirer.
“It’s ego,” Hendee said with a laugh. “Many of the people here are expatriates from the big investment banks. We cut our teeth at some of the global firms and we recognize that we want to chart our own course. We try to take the good stuff we learned at the big firms and tailor it to what we like and how it suits us and leave the bad stuff behind.”
So far, it’s a mentality that seems to be working. While its main office is on Monroe Avenue just west of Twelve Corners Plaza, Brighton Securities operates a satellite office in Batavia, a branch office with Southern Tier Financial in Jamestown and another partnership with Saperston Asset Management Inc. in Buffalo, whose advisors work for Brighton but have kept their branding.
Since Jai Ramachandran took the helm as CEO in 2014, Brighton Securities assets under management have about doubled, from just under $1 billion to nearly $2 billion. Ramachandran said that growth comes from gains in the market, adding advisors who have increased the number of clients served as well as the partnerships with out-of-town offices.
“So that’s really how you grow quickly —there’s both the organic growth through our training programs and inorganic growth through acquiring different firms in different areas.”
Ramachandran arrived following a career at Oppenheimer Cos. in Manhattan. He succeeded Alexandra Conboy, daughter of George Conboy, who also served as a longtime leader of the firm. The elder Conboy continues to serve as chairman of the board of directors at Brighton Securities.
Under Ramachandran’s leadership, Brighton Securities has grown to 26 financial advisors on staff, due partly to a training program implemented around the time Hendee came on board from Morgan Stanley 10 years ago. Six trainees out of 12 passed through the program.
“We believe that’s a really high success rate for the industry, especially when it comes to the bigger firms where their success rates are in the single percentages,” Ramachandran said.
Staying independent is partly due to an ambitious growth plan, but is mostly, in Hendee and Ramachandran’s eyes, due to a unique, tailored approach to financial services. Ramachandran begrudgingly uses the word “bespoke” to describe Brighton Securities approach to asset management, while Hendee says the idea is not to fall back on any mainstay product line as a one-size-fits-all solution.
“We’re basically here to deliver solutions to our clients,” Hendee said. “We’re product agnostic. I don’t really care what the solution is as long as it’s the best thing for the client, it’s economical and it meets the client’s needs and goals.”
As for the clients themselves, the world has changed since 1969, when Brighton Securities was founded by Marshall Levine and Alan Calderon. Ramachandran points to the dot-com bubble of the late ’90s as a decisive turning point in how financial advisors play a role in their clients’ finances.
As a result of the dramatic losses that accompanied the dot-com crash, a culture developed in which clients are more informed and more willing to take control of their finances.
“Before, people might have relied solely on their advisor,” Ramachandran said. Now clients are tuned into omnipresent business news channels among a multiplicity of sources about investing and the markets.
For chief administrative officer Danielle Wilkins, 9/11 also played a major role. The Patriot Act, as well as a number of other regulatory changes in the early 2000s, created a new environment for advisors.
“A lot of advisors trained in New York and were in those buildings —it has a lot of impact on what we do,” Wilkins said.
While a more educated clientele can be good in many ways, the inundation of information from the daily news cycle can sometimes pose a challenge for advisors in that what the client wants may not be the best option for them. Hendee’s job is to put the client on the right path.
“It’s, fortunately or unfortunately, what we do,” Hendee said. “You have to level expectations and make sure that you consider the source … and make sure you factor in the long-term ramifications of whatever sort of action you’re considering —how will that impact your long-term plan?”
Brighton Securities has about 5,000 clients under its wing across all locations. Over the next five years, Ramachandran hopes to again double assets under management through strategic partnerships, acquisition and old-fashioned growth.
“We want to be approaching $4 billion under management in five years, and that’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen,” Ramachandran said. “We’re going to have to continue to be successful on the training side, we have to continue to be successful on the recruiting side and we have to continue to be successful finding strategic partnerships or acquisitions to help grow our business, both in terms of number of clients we have and in terms of services we can offer.”
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