Here’s a riddle for you. Why would financial advisors flock to TriState Capital Bank, a bank just six years old that does only two things—takes deposits and makes loans—and turn it into one of the fastest-growing banks in the country? I’ll bet all of you financial advisors discovered the answer immediately. It took me two weeks of hard reporting.

I was intrigued with TriState and thought it would make a good story. I interviewed Charles Fawcett IV, president of the private bank, and learned about its rapid growth. Then I set about finding the secret. Fawcett couldn’t really tell me. At the TriState Capital Web site, I found this: “At TriState Capital, you work directly with a trusted and experienced advisor who understands not just banking, but your specific business.” A clue, but too subtle for me. It sounded like boilerplate.

I called all the planners who normally solve mysteries like this for me and I got nowhere. They’d never heard of the bank, couldn’t figure out what made it so unique and were puzzled by the growth. The “secret” slipped right through my fingers. I kept going back to Fawcett, asking him to put his finger on what was responsible. I asked him to put me in touch with clients to find out why they loved TriState. He answered all my queries. He wasn’t being secretive. He knew the secret. He just couldn’t put it into words.

 I didn’t get it because I didn’t understand the value to advisors of working directly with a lender, one who would not undermine them, not try to steal their clients and not spread derisive “rumors” about the financial planning profession and how inferior it was to the glory that was banking. Working with TriState, financial advisors could set up customized, competitively priced financing without ever going to a BANK. They could retain their independence as financial advisors. Just that simple. Right in front of my face, but I couldn’t see it.

Thankfully, after beating my head against the wall several hours a day for the good part of a week, I had something of an epiphany. Well, not quite. Actually Jeffrey Lauterbach, a financial services consultant and jack-of-all-trades, told me the secret. Here’s what he said: “People, and most especially financial advisors, hate banks.”

Lauterbach knew this because some time ago he set up a trust company based on the same principle as TriState. The company was Capital Trust, based in Wilmington, Del., which was sold in 2005. “We acted as trustee and gave the advisors the opportunity to manage the money and provide all the other services,” Lauterbach said. “We were on the same side of the table as the client.”

I’ll bet that sounds familiar to financial planners. The secret, which I actually knew full well by now, was that financial services companies bury their real motives. Lauterbach became interested in this whole subject when he worked for a financial services company that had a load of proprietary products—and guess what? Those products were the only things they wanted their financial advisors to sell to clients. As the old line goes, “Where are the customers’ boats?”

When I asked Lauterbauch who had been the competition of his trust company back in the early 2000s, he said “individual trusteeship.” People want to maintain control and flexibility,” he said. “Banks have a bad reputation. People who have accumulated wealth do not trust the bank.”

So now I can tell my story, an old story that we all know: Most financial services products are designed to enhance the well-being of the vendor at the expense of clients. The clients get only the leftovers. Of course, no one tells financial advisors that secret. They have to figure it out for themselves.
Now to return to TriState Capital Bank, headquartered in Pittsburgh, the idea that three guys worked out on a piece of paper in 2006. TriState works directly with financial advisors, employs 150 people, has no branches and no retail services. Low overhead and zero interference.

The bank offers financial advisors the option of working with their own clients rather than handing them over.

The bank works directly with advisors to help them create innovative credit products. Nobody has to go to the bank. “Financial advisors are wise enough to know that every relationship their client has with another institution makes their relationship less solid.”

But why are banks the worst villains? “Banks cannot avoid cross-selling,” Lauterbach said. When a financial advisor brings a client to the bank for a loan, the bank scoops up that client and showers him with products: mortgages, credit cards, life insurance, property/casualty insurance, certificates of deposit, bank money market funds, mutual funds, you name it. So the financial planner’s client is swallowed by the bank. The planner sees only his back as his inner tube goes over the falls.

So, thanks to Lauterbach, I’d found the secret. It was easy to see why TriState’s Fawcett couldn’t put his finger on it. To him, the bank was doing business as usual, putting the customer first. TriState works with 75 clients. “The ones who don’t work with us probably don’t get it,” he said.

TriState Capital Bank went public on May 9, 2013, and is traded on the Nasdaq. The bank reported a 41% increase in income to common shareholders to $12.9 million in 2013, compared with $9.1 million in 2012.

So it was late on a Friday afternoon, just before my deadline, I felt I’d gotten to the bottom of the secret. I sent Fawcett this message: “I’ve interviewed dozens of people in the financial services industry in an effort to put my finger on what is driving TriState’s growth. The only consistent thing I’ve heard from many people is that financial advisors hate banks. They hate doing business with them, they’ve had bad experiences with banks stealing their clients and so forth. One advisor told me that with TriState, ‘financial advisors can work with clients to set up financing without ever going to a BANK.’ What do you think?”

Fawcett e-mailed back. Of course, he didn’t want to cast any shadows on banks, but he did write, “We respect our financial advisors. We would never tell them what to do. We don’t surround them.” In other words Tri State bank facilitates the way bankers work rather than trying to push them aside and get out in front of them.

Mary Rowland can be reached at She has been a business and personal finance journalist for 30 years and has written two books for financial advisors: Best Practices and In Search of the Perfect Model.