HighTower adds Morgan Stanley team in Virginia

By Joseph A. Giannone

NEW YORK (Reuters) - HighTower Advisors, a firm consolidating wealth management businesses across the United States, on Monday said it added a team of advisers from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in northern Virginia.

VWG Wealth Management, based in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Vienna, manages more than $600 million in client assets. Partners John Verfurth, Richard Weeks and Jeff Grinspoon joined HighTower because customers and prospects want advisers who are independent, client-first fiduciaries.

"After the last couple of years, the independent perspective was more valuable to our clients," Verfurth said in an interview.

Verfurth, a former U.S. Navy pilot, had worked his entire 16-year brokerage career at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and predecessors Morgan Stanley and Dean Witter. Weeks, a 17-year veteran, began with Legg Mason in 1994 before joining Morgan Stanley in 2001.

Grinspoon spent three years at Legg Mason before also joining Morgan Stanley, also in 2001. Verfurth and Grinspoon were among Barron's Top 1,000 Financial Advisors for the past two years.

VWG's clients typically have $1 million to $10 million on liquid assets.

Verfurth said the team's desire to leave Morgan Stanley has not specific to that bank as much as it was for grabbing the chance to run an independent, unconflicted practice. Broker-dealers, by comparison, have only to show that an investment was "suitable" to a customer.

HighTower, one of several firms consolidating wealth practices nationally, can provide big firm compliance, technology and handle operational tasks, Grinspoon said.

"It was an industry-specific decision," Grinspoon said. "We couldn't go to another big brokerage, a Merrill Lynch or a UBS, and say this is better for the client."

(Reporting by Joseph A. Giannone, editing by Bernard Orr)