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Goldman Sachs SEC Case Divides Wealth Managers

Charles Paikert

Family Wealth Report

5 May 2010

Wealth managers are divided about the ultimate impact of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud charges against Goldman Sachs on the business.

Some believe the allegations that Goldman misled investors will cast a cloud over wealth managers; others believe the repercussions will be minimal.

And many are convinced the still unfolding story will aid their own business in competition with the Wall Street giant.

“Goldman is the company we compete with most often,” said Steve Lockshin, chief executive of Convergent Wealth Advisors. “The question has always been is Goldman Sachs in the product business or the advice business?  I think the , and their sales are up. Merrill Lynch should have been crushed by bad publicity two years ago and they may made more money than ever last year. Goldman is so entrenched that I think in wealth management it will be business as usual.”

“I don’t think this will have much impact on their wealth management business,” said industry veteran Jamie McLaughlin. “Clients that want their products will continue to use them.”

Prospective clients “might be less likely to hire Goldman because of all the negative publicity,” said Jeff Spears, chief executive of Sanctuary Wealth Services LLC in San Francisco. But, Spears added, Goldman may be aided by an equally strong tendency by the public to “forgive and forget”.

Indeed, at this point, the ultimate impact of the SEC’s offensive against Goldman – and possibly other firms  – on the wealth management industry remains uncertain.

“I think it’s too early to tell,” said Hou. “It’s usually not one thing but a cumulative effect that weighs on clients’ minds.”

“I don’t think there’s any way anyone can intellectually honestly say the Goldman situation is not going to have a negative impact. The question is what’s the magnitude? This is another example of a Wall Street conflict of interest causing a systemic crisis of confidence,” said Elliot Weissbluth, chief executive for Chicago-based HighTower Advisors.

If the perception is widespread, Weissbluth believes, firms such as his will benefit.

“The silver lining is that it will lead to greater awareness of the simple fact that firms like HighTower are better and safer,” he said.

Doug Regan, president of Northern Trust’s wealth management group, neatly summed up the industry’s ambivalence about the Goldman affair.

“It comes at a bad time for the industry, as banks are beginning to put the troubles of the past two years behind them. It gives clients one more reason to question their provider,” Regan said.

But there was another side to the story, he stressed.

“This puts a premium on firms that stayed close to their clients and lived their core values,” he said.