Like others in the business, these bankers were "in search of the perfect model" to capture that growing number of ultra-high-net-worth clients that everyone is after. I told them that I did most of my work with independent advisors and that one unmistakable trend was that wealthy clients want to pay for advice, not for products.

My comments were not welcome. Instead, these wealth managers talked about how to get more "wallet share" and how to do more "cross-selling." One wealth manager said: "I'm not going to sit here and be forced to apologize for selling both products and advice." He left.
A couple of others drifted away, and then I was given the hook by the person who had made the mistake of inviting me to discuss "perfect models." The atmosphere reminded me of an old-fashioned shunning. No one said boo. Or goodbye. Or thanks. Or, "Do you need to use the restroom?" I'd never been given such a cold shoulder after a speech. This meeting left me with a negative impression of the civility, the flexibility and the open-mindedness of bankers.

So in the years since then, it's been interesting to watch the banks that have what it takes-guts, foresight, smarts?-to step away from the pack. They will be the winners.

The acquisition of Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros and Blayney by Harris Bank had just been completed at the time I gave my speech and much of the advisory industry was watching that acquisition with great interest. And since then, I've spoken to a number of people in the business who have polished up my image of bankers. For example, a year ago I interviewed Maria Elena Lagomasino, who left a position as chairman and chief executive officer at JP Morgan Private Bank to set up a firm that would provide independent, objective advice to high-net-worth individuals.

Lagomasino is now chief executive officer of GenSpring Family Offices LLC, based in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., which is a subsidiary of Sun Trust of Atlanta. And she is mighty impressive in her insistence on independence, among other things. William H. Rogers Jr., corporate executive vice president at SunTrust, told me that when the bank started segmenting the different parts of the business, it looked at very high-net-worth clients and "it became clear to us that these clients wanted far more of a boutique kind of feel, with someone sitting on their side of the table offering advice rather than products. When SunTrust invested in GenSpring, formerly Asset Management Advisors, Rogers says, "The smartest thing we did was to keep it independent."

It wasn't popular and it wasn't easy to do, he says, particularly when it meant giving up good private banking clients to Genspring. "It required a lot of education to teach people that AMA is not a competitor," he recalls. "We've made a lot of headway, but it's been a long road." But complete independence for the wealth management subsidiary is "the secret sauce," Rogers says, and he will not compromise that.

Wacker believes that joining the Pacific Bancorp family makes the best strategic sense for his firm. Pacific Bancorp owns six banks with 50 branches along the central coast of California. Pacific owns a bank in San Luis Obispo, where Wacker's office is located. He will become a fully owned subsidiary of Pacific Bancorp but will continue to operate as R.E. Wacker Associates.

He also believes that private wealth managers may be opening new vistas for bankers. Pacific Bancorp's trust department has invested in the "traditional buy and hold type stuff," Wacker says. But both Morton and Wacker use a lot of alternative investments. The bank is exploring some new investments for its own trust department, perhaps as a result of the examples they've been shown by wealth managers.

So now we have a handful of role models-and some banks that get it. Wacker's acquiring bank looks to be one of them. Judy Shine, too, will keep her firm's name and will continue with her financial advisory firm for at least five years. Wacker says, "I'm not even required to refer people to the bank." 

I'm happy to admit I am wrong about bankers. I'm happy to see that a whole new realm of the financial services industry recognizes that integrity depends on independence. The more people who recognize the value of selling advice rather than products, the better results we'll see. But I don't think I'll give a speech at a bank again, even if I'm invited.