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Independence in Aggregate: Former execs pool skills for Coastal Bridge Advisors

As many investors across the country abandon the equity market, the principals of Coastal Bridge Advisors of Westport are drawn to it. Jim Pratt-Heaney of Weston and three other former executives with Merrill Lynch’s Private Banking and Investment Group in Westport began researching breaking off on their own a year ago.Their decision to start a firm was not a result of the financial crisis, nor did it stem from Merrill Lynch’s acquisition by Bank of America, said Pratt-Heaney, who opened the firm Oct. 17 at 33 Riverside Ave., with partners Bill Lomas, Bill Loftus and Kevin Burns. Pratt-Heaney said he and his partners believe that they can offer more personalized service operating as a smaller entity. “We looked at all of the options and going to other firms, but we decided together to pursue our own business,” he said. “People are nervous with the institutions they’re involved with. They also want transparency – that’s our keynote. They need to know what they are investing in and why.”

Coastal Bridge Advisors works with clients who have a minimum of $5 million investable assets. Clients can include those dealing with a life-changing event, want to sell off stock or need money management advice, Pratt-Heaney said. The company said it expects to manage about $1 billion in assets for clients across the United States. Each partner brings a specialty to the firm. Pratt-Heaney heads asset management. Lomas handles the holistic investment planning process. Loftus heads the corporate executive services, lending, and alternative investment operations, and Burns covers new client asset acquisition area. Each partner has more than 25 years experience in the business.

Ric Edelman, chairman of Edelman Financial Services Inc. in Fairfax, Va., said that Merrill Lynch had been a “well-regarded name” for brokers to be associated with for many years, but it has lost credibility over time. Many brokers are “jumping ship,” he said, because of a rather obvious reason: money. “Merrill Lynch keeps a majority of revenues that a broker generates, so many brokers didn’t want to be bothered with that and decided to open their own firm down the street,” Edelman said. Many brokers have left Merrill Lynch and other major firms, he said, to distance themselves from those involved in the economic crisis. Going independent, he said, allows them to expand their services. “Some may want more flexibility with their investment strategies and business practices that the other broker deals won’t permit – like some firms don’t want to promote business seminars,” Edelman said. Whether you follow your broker to their firm or remain with a major name service, Edelman stressed the importance of asking the right questions.“Ask why is the broker leaving, and what is the clear benefit between the broker and client? Make sure that you’re asking serious questions like is what they’re offering as good of a service as they were before?” Edelman said.

Coastal Bridge Advisors’s partners have solid reputations in the field, according to Pratt-Heaney, noting that more than 95 percent of their former Merrill Lynch clients have followed them and have responded well to the new firm. These clients also are referring LLBH d/b/a Coastal Bridge Advisors to others, he said. “Our growth is very controlled, we don’t want to get new clients and dilute the service to our other clients,” Pratt-Heaney said.

– Special Correspondent Harold Davis can be reached at or 964-2277

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January 2009