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Making sense of Steve Dunlap stepping into Barnaby Grist's 'big shoes' as Cetera's RIA czar

The Lockwood, Pershing and Schwab alumnus with a products and PM background is tasked with leading strategic development and expansion of Cetera’s RIA unit

Friday, June 28, 2013 – 12:59 PM by Dina Hampton
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Steve Dunlap joined Cetera for its flat organization. In his new home people 'can sit around a table and contribute ideas.'

Brooke’s Note: Cetera’s determination to grow big, grow smart and to waste no time doing any of this held true to form with this hire. When a desirable IBD acquisition comes on the market, the company antes up and comes out with a few thousand more reps. When an executive steps aside, money does not seem to be an object. The company pays what it must to poach talent and pay a commission to a top headhunter. In business as in life, you tend to get what you pay for. So Cetera remains a company to watch as Don Marron stays very much in the saddle not too many Lightyears away.

Cetera Financial Group Inc. has replaced Barnaby Grist with somebody who knows him, likes him, knew him from the days of Grist was at Schwab Advisor Services and 'humbly’ hopes to step into his shoes. See: In the wake of an unusual HR event, Cetera is seeking its new Barnaby Grist.

The Los Angeles-based aggregator of independent broker-dealers, announced yesterday that Steve Dunlap will join the company as executive vice president of wealth management. The former Lockwood executive will be charged with the delicate task of keeping Cetera’s advisors on track as IBD reps while pushing the envelope toward a more fee-based, RIA-based future.

Most recently, Dunlap served in a dual role as president and managing director of Lockwood Advisors, which distributes retail products for The Bank of New York Mellon, and managed investments at the company’s Pershing unit. There, he led the effort to re-invent the managed account technology platform, and upgrade the delivery of institutional-quality investment advice and manager research.

He’s not the first Lockwood executive to seek entrepreneurial pastures. See: After bringing in $500 million in first year, breakaway Lockwood execs set sights on bigger growth.

Dunlap will report to Cetera’s chief executive officer Valerie Brown, and his job is to stock the shelves with the groceries that advisors need to compete with the Schwabs and LPLs of the advisor universe.

“His extensive experience, proven leadership and entrepreneurial spirit give me confidence he will continue the momentum we’ve achieved, bringing our advisors the sophisticated tools and resources they need to grow their businesses.”

Big shoes

Dunlap steps into the role Cetera chief Barnaby Grist 41, who in April said he was leaving due to family health issues. He will be stepping down at the end of the month.

Cecile Munoz’ firm, Los-Angeles-based headhunter U.S. Executive Search & Consulting, headed up the three-month search for a new leader and she says the competition was fierce for the plum position.

“We received a tremendous response to this search given the growth trajectory of Cetera and the high impact/high visibility nature of this role,” she says. See: Top RIA business executive recruiter chides 180 women gathered in a New York ballroom for second-guessing themselves.

Dunlap notes that he and Grist have been friends since they both worked Grist was at Schwab. And he knows Susan Theider, Cetera’s chief marketing officer from their time at Pershing. See: Cetera lifts a high-end talent out of Pershing but can the IBD establish itself as a brand presence among advisors?.

“I have big shoes to fill,” says Dunlap. “Grist is extraordinary [as is] Susan.”

Dry feet

In a phone conversation yesterday, Dunlap was enthusiastic about his new position but declined to comment on specific strategies he would implement at Cetera until he’s gotten his feet wet. His first day will be July 15. But he does say his overarching mission is to help Cetera help advisors prepare their clients for retirement, and to help give those advisors the technology, products and strategies that will enable them give their clients the “hand-holding all the way” they need.

As for what skills he brings to the table to speed Cetera on its way to capturing more RIA business, Dunlap cites products he has stewarded at both Schwab and Pershing, specifically, mutual fund illustrations for advisors to present to clients, platforms for annuities and life insurance, investment products, research as well as “reinventing managed accounts at Pershing.”

John Furey of Phoenix-based “Advisor Growth Strategies thinks Dunlap’s track record developing a broad range of products gave him an inside track.

“Cetera is bringing somebody with a product background could signal they are looking to beef up their asset management and distribution capabilities. It’s probably good thing for representatives.”

Two’s a trend?

Dunlap, his wife and two boys, 11 and 9, will be moving to Los Angeles where Dunlap will take up his duties beginning July 15.

“The boys are as excited as they can be,” he says. His wife, a homemaker, is an East Coast girl and a bit nervous about the move. Dunlap is the son of a Navy officer and as a kid lived in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Chip Roame of Tiburon Strategic Advisors points out that Dunlap marks “the second consecutive pick for the job from a major custodian. It’s a logical fit as Pershing served many IBDs so he knows the traditional Cetera IBD model well.”

“It’s a loss for Pershing,” Roame says. “Dunlap is a good leader and business builder.”

Pershing spokesman Paul Patella says the firm doesn’t comment on specific personnel movements but that the company wishes Dunlap well in his future endeavors.

'Hard-driving meritocracy’

Dunlap says he was drawn to Cetera because “they’re a force in the industry, They’ve made lots of savvy moves [in terms of] growing fee-based business for advisors.”

Chip Roame: It's a logical fit as Pershing served many IBDs so he knows the traditional Cetera IBD model well.
Chip Roame: It’s a logical fit
as Pershing served many IBDs so
he knows the traditional Cetera IBD
model well.

He says he was particularly drawn to the firm’s “hard-driving meritocracy” where “organization is flat and you sit around a conference table working to decide the right direction and everyone’s voice is respected and expected contribute. People aren’t worried about rand or hierarchy.” See: Why exactly Dave Loeper and a Smith Barney/E.F Hutton legend are teaming up.

From PA to LA

Dunlap, 46, started at Pershing in January 2008, months after the financial crash, as COO. He, his wife and two boys, 11 and 9, will be moving to Los Angeles where Dunlap will take up his duties beginning July 15.

“The boys are as excited as they can be,” he says. His wife, a homemaker, is an East Coast girl and a bit nervous about the move. Dunlap is the son of a Navy officer and as a kid lived in San Diego and Los Angeles.

Cetera to date

Cetera has had a tumultuous year and a half. In January 2012 it acquired Schaumburg, Ill.-based Genworth Financial Investment Services Inc. from Genworth Financial Inc. for $78 million-plus. See: What the Cetera-Genworth IBD deal says about where these companies are headed.

In September of that year, the Los Angeles aggregator of independent broker-dealers announced that it had rebranded its four broker-dealer divisions — Genworth Financial Investment Services Inc., Financial Network Investment Corp., PrimeVest Financial Services Inc. and Multi-Financial Securities Corp. — with the Cetera name in an effort to better market itself. See: Cetera rebrands divisions in its own name, but $1-billion advisor defects to a rival startup.

At the time, chief executive Valerie Brown said the move was made in part at the request of Cetera’s advisors. But at least one RIA in Cetera’s stable wasn’t convinced. RMR Wealth Builders Inc., a Teaneck, N.J.-based wealth management firm that has $1 billion in assets and generates $7 million in revenue, announced it was leaving Cetera because of concerns about its long-term commitment to growth. See: Cetera rebrands divisions in its own name, but $1-billion advisor defects to a rival startup.

Still, Cetera boasts some superstars including Randy Long of Sageview. See: How a $12 billion RIA grew to $20 billion in less than a year by raiding 401(k) accounts from legacy players.

In March 2013, Cetera bought Tower Square Securities and Walnut Street Securities from MetLife Inc. by one of its four existing Independent broker-dealers, the venture-capital-backed roll-up of IBDs and their reps has now attained critical mass — and proved that it can do deals and digest them on a serial basis. See: Cetera raises its strategic profile to 'baby LPL’ status with MetLife deal.

From PE to tech

Before joining Pershing, Dunlap was president of Finetre Corporation, a supplier of software and e-commerce to the RIA and insurance industries. There, he led the development and implementation of the start-up company’s strategy. His experience spans managing private-equity funded startup companies to key leadership positions at multi-billion dollar corporations. He spent his early career as an investment executive.

Dunlap serves on The Money Management Institute’s Board of Governors and holds Series 7, 24 and 66 securities registrations.

Correction: In a previous iteration of this article, the caption under Steve Dunlap’s photograph indicated that he believed Pershing BNY Mellon to be more hierarchical than Cetera. In fact, Dunlap made no comparison between the two firms. RIABiz regrets the error.

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Mentioned in this article:

Tiburon Strategic Advisors
Consulting Firm
Top Executive: Charles Roame

Cetera Financial Group
RIA-Friendly Broker-Dealer
Top Executive: Larry Roth

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