An investment boutique founded by a pair of former BB&T Asset Management executives is off to a good start in bad times.
Shawn Gibson and David Arthur started Blue Ridge Asset Management in August, and Keith Karlawish, who had been the president of BB&T Asset Management, joined them in December. The Raleigh firm already has $10 million in assets under management, and the co-founders said they hope to use their connections to increase that amount by as much as $65 million by yearend.
Mr. Gibson and Mr. Arthur were working for Mr. Karlawish, a partner in Blue Ridge, when they left BB&T Asset Management, also of Raleigh. Mr. Gibson and Mr. Arthur said the opportunity to work more directly with clients was one reason they left, and Mr. Karlawish voluntarily left BB&T in October after a "reorganization" there, Mr. Arthur said. A spokeswoman for the parent BB&T Corp. of Winston-Salem, N.C., did not return a call seeking comment.
Mr. Arthur and Mr. Karlawish, who work in Raleigh, and Mr. Gibson, who works in Richmond, Va., are targeting people with liquid assets of $1 million to $10 million, promising them the sort of attention that the partners contend other wealth managers are failing to provide.
"You'd think clients with $1 million to $10 million would have people tripping all over themselves to provide great service and a high level of sophistication. The reality is that they are not getting any of that," said Mr. Gibson, who directed the alternative investments platform for BB&T Asset Management.
Linda Ducruet, an executive recruiter in Greenwich, Conn., said that, considering the state of the economy, she does not expect many other bank investment professionals to strike out on their own.
Having to build a client base from scratch is daunting, and is all the more so for Blue Ridge, which has no marketing staff, Ms. Ducruet said. The best-positioned start-up would be one lifted out from a larger institution with its client base intact, she said; Blue Ridge has "a tough row to hoe."
Mr. Gibson conceded many potential clients are reluctant to leave their current advisers, even though their portfolios have suffered, because of the relationships they have established.
Blue Ridge's co-founders had long mused about starting a firm modeled after the approach used by Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers, Mr. Gibson said. Those two companies "had a lot of sophisticated capabilities and great service," he said, "and we wanted to replicate that level of service and sophistication for clients in that $1 million-to-$10 million segment."
Mr. Arthur, who was BB&T Asset Management's director of regional portfolio management, said that, by running their own firm, the partners would have a better opportunity to customize portfolios for clients, and Mr. Gibson said Blue Ridge's focus on risk management could help it attract clients in a volatile climate. "We did sense that there were going to be a lot of people out there who would be uneasy about their investment portfolios and would be willing to do new things," he said.
Thus far Blue Ridge's clients have shifted to the firm from a brokerage house, small registered investment advisers, and a bank. One is a new retiree with a 401(k) rollover, Mr. Gibson said. Many of the clients share a dissatisfaction with the communication level of their previous wealth managers, and with their "buy-and-hold, stay-the-course mentality," he said. "They have not been seeing proactive risk management."
Mr. Gibson said he and his fellow Blue Ridge partners believe consolidation in the industry is one factor behind the creation of what they see as a class of underserved investors. Many institutions with large numbers of clients and employees manage risk "by creating different silos and putting clients in them," he said.