Ron and Joe Barreca have tag-teamed their way to the top, with Ron producing $1.3 million and Joe $1.8 million last year as the leading producers for Essex National Securities Inc., a third-party marketing firm that provides broker-dealer services for Iberia Bank of New Orleans.

The brothers have worked for Iberia Bank, a subsidiary of Iberiabank Corp. of Lafayette, La., for the past two years, after helping each other survive Hurricane Katrina.

Ron, 46, graduated from Louisiana State University in 1985 with a business degree and went to work for New York Life Insurance Co. Ten years later he moved to Hibernia Corp. of New Orleans.

When Joe, 32, graduated from college in 1999, Ron encouraged him to take a job as a sales assistant for one of Ron's associates at Hibernia. "Sales assistant sounded like secretary to me, but it was an opportunity to get licensed and move into a junior broker position down the road," Joe said. "And Ron said that if I didn't like it, I could always go back to school."

Joe quickly went to work, spending the next few months getting his licenses and making calls "to put skins on the wall." Seven months after joining Hibernia, he was recruited by Wells Fargo & Co. in Houston. "It was a much bigger market than New Orleans," he said. "Investors were throwing me opportunities to invest $200,000 or $300,000 in the market, whereas in New Orleans it was more a fixed-income clientele."

He spent three years in Houston, and he missed New Orleans. An old friend at Hibernia tipped off Vance Richard, head of the investment program at Iberia Bank New Orleans, that Joe wanted to come back. Richard offered him a job, and within a few months he was back in the Big Easy. Then a $1.9 billion-asset bank — now $5.5 billion, mostly through acquisition — Iberia was a good fit.

"I knew there was a huge opportunity when I found out I'd have a $200 million territory and the branch folks seemed really willing to work with me," Joe said. Within nine months he had produced enough ($400,000) to earn a sales assistant and later, a junior broker ($750,000).

Then Hurricane Katrina struck, on Aug. 29, 2005, turning New Orleans into a disaster zone for weeks.

The two brothers evacuated. Ron's business was much more crippled than Joe's. Only one branch out of Joe's 10-branch territory was destroyed, but Ron, who had carved a profitable niche at Hibernia serving working families in New Orleans, lost 75% of his clients.

"My territory was one of the hardest-hit areas," Ron said. "I had 1,700 clients and all of a sudden everything they had was 14 feet under water. It was a punch in the gut for sure."

The chaos increased when Capital One Financial Corp. of McLean, Va., bought Hibernia in 2005. "My manager told me I'd better look for something else, because he didn't know if they'd rebuild," Ron said. "Half of my clients cashed out and many moved. I was only able to maintain 25% of my book."

Joe came to his aid, calling Jim Jackson, his old boss and mentor at Wells Fargo in Houston. Fortunately, Joe had left on good terms, deliberately not poaching clients. Jackson offered Ron a job. He wanted Joe, too, but after two and a half years Joe had built up a nice-size book at Iberia and didn't want to leave Louisiana.

Ron spent seven months at Wells Fargo. He said "it wasn't my cup of tea." He liked Houston, he said, but he didn't like competing with heavy hitters from Bank of America Corp. and Legg Mason Inc. for wealthy clients who had no adviser loyalty.

He missed the kitchen-table element of serving blue-collar oil refinery workers in New Orleans.

"You can jump through hoops for a wealthy client and he'll drop you for 0.25% better rate somewhere else," Ron said. "I'd rather have 10 $100,000 guys than one $1 million guy any day."

So when Joe suggested that Vance Richard hire Ron for a $250 million territory, primarily serving farmers, Ron accepted.

He "inherited" the territory from a rep who had been producing around $300,000 a year, which Richard considered too little for $250 million deposit base. Ron fixed that in short order.

Back in his element, he produced $1.4 million in 2007 and $1.3 million in 2008. This year will be tough, he said, but he has produced over $1 million for eight years and anticipates doing so again.

Ron now works with 500 or 600 clients, and he said that if he can add 100 more a he's doing pretty good.

Meanwhile, Joe's business at Iberia is very different from the high-net-worth practice at Wells Fargo in Houston, where he covered one branch with $270 million in deposits. At Iberia he covers 10 branches with a combined $240 million in deposits.

To keep those lucrative referrals rolling in from all 10 branches, Joe and his junior broker continually train bankers to identify suitable investment clients and on how investment products can help their customers save for retirement. "It's just 10 minutes at the branch meeting, a brief summary of products," Joe said. "The regional branch manager invites us to all the meetings and we make sure we're not out of sight, out of mind. I'll also bring in doughnuts, croissants or beignets just to let bankers know how much they're appreciated, and if they're shorthanded we'll buy their lunches, answer the phones and blend in with the bank as much as possible."

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