Chris Dupuy, formerly a top regional executive for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, left the firm a year ago and joined the independent Focus Financial Partners LLC wealth management network.

Now that he's free from contractual restraints and poised to pitch top advisers, he faces one key challenge: many of them don't know Focus.

"I get that a lot from people: 'You went to work for who?'" said Dupuy, who resigned from his job heading Merrill Lynch's Pacific Northwest market in late February 2014 and started working at Focus Financial Partners in June.

Merrill Lynch declined to comment beyond confirming that Dupuy left last February.

Dupuy spent nearly 30 years at Merrill, having started at the age of 19. While he expected some of his Merrill colleagues were surprised when he resigned, he said the bureaucratic nature of big-firm-life had worn him down.

"I didn't want to hang on to a model that was fading when there was more growth elsewhere," Dupuy said.

Founded in 2006, Focus Financial Partners has grown by recruiting dissatisfied advisers from the four big wirehouse brokerages - Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo Advisors and UBS Wealth Management Americas. It finances their start-up costs to launch their own independent registered investment advisor (RIA) businesses.

Focus provides the firms with continuing technology and office support in exchange for partial ownership. Backed by private equity, Focus owns stakes in more than 30 RIAs.

When Dupuy met Focus founder and Chief Executive Rudy Adolf for the first time in mid-2013 at Focus's Manhattan headquarters, he didn't think RIAs were a competitive threat.

The difference maker was Focus' substantial private equity backing, Dupuy said.

Focus does not disclose its private equity support.