Golden years: recruiting financial advisers with experience in retirement planning has helped CapTrust grow at a 22% clip over the last 20 years.

Author:Mildenberg, David
Position:NC TREND: Money talk

Jim Edwards has managed money for 17 years in Bethlehem, Pa., where unionized steelworkers for decades built up guaranteed retirement pension accounts. Those steel companies have mostly disappeared, of course, along with defined-benefit pension plans that promised an annual payout that often increased to keep pace with inflation. Now, workers in Bethlehem and elsewhere mostly rely on their own 401(k) savings plans--often supplemented by employers who hire advisers like Edwards for supervision--hoping the money will last through the golden years.

Edwards has participated in the shift, building a 20-employee business that oversees $4 billion of retirement savings. Two years ago, he sold his company, MFP Strategies, to Raleigh-based CapTrust, which has capitalized on the trend to become one of the nation's largest retirement-advisory companies.

Now, in its 20th year, CapTrust has acquired MFP and 25 other advisory groups, boosting revenue by about 22% annually. It's among the largest money managers based in North Carolina with about $226 billion in assets as of April 30, up from $12 billion in 2007. About 140 advisers are affiliated with CapTrust at 34 offices across the U.S.

Chief Executive Officer Fielding Miller says the fun has just begun, with a plan to quadruple revenue to about $400 million over the next decade. It totaled $102 million in 2016, topping a goal set in 2007 of reaching $100 million within 10 years.

"Ten years ago we decided we wanted to be a national business" mainly focused on retirement-plan advisers, he says. "Now, we're going into many of those same cities and buying wealth-management firms to fold in with our existing offices."

CapTrust started as an affiliate of Interstate/Johnson Lane, a Charlotte-based brokerage firm that was acquired by Wachovia Corp. in 1999. It appealed to veteran brokers like Miller, then one of Interstate's biggest producers, who wanted to keep a tie with ISL but aimed to retain more of the fees sparked by their work. With Wachovia focused on other things, Miller and a few peers acquired rights to use the CapTrust name and formed a new ownership group.

The strategy of shared ownership has been a key growth catalyst, initially attracting brokers in Tampa, Fla., Philadelphia, Ann Arbor, Mich., and other cities. In 2009, former Interstate brokers Bob Jones and Mike Blair left Wells Fargo Advisors to join CapTrust. The duo are among the largest money managers in the Charlotte area. Along with...

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