Wealth Management

Registered Investment Advisor
Independent for You


Why did your team decide to leave Merrill Lynch (Bank of America)?
The decision to go independent was ultimately a result of the evolution of both my practice and of our clients’ situations over many years. The financial landscape has changed dramatically in the past decade, and the needs of our clients have evolved, too. It is no coincidence that across the financial services industry, we see the most elite and best-in-class wealth management teams continue to migrate away from large banks to independence.
Why is this move good for your clients?
In today’s environment, wealthier families require more sophisticated planning than the tools and resources at a large bank, where they’re just a commodity. As a truly independent business, we have an opportunity to compile the best suite of tools and resources customized to meet our specific client needs. That’s something we simply could not accomplish within the confines of a large brokerage firm that is part of a large bank and built to support thousands of advisors.
How will my relationship with The Smith Group change?
If anything, your relationship with the people at The Smith Group is likely to become deeper and more meaningful. In exploring the benefits of independence, it became overwhelmingly clear that we could upgrade, improve and enhance all services that we provide to wealthy families while eliminating the bureaucracy and inefficiencies of working for a large bank.
How long has your team been considering the independent space?
We have always considered ourselves to be an independent team utilizing the platform and resources of a large global bank. Over the past few years, it became obvious that operating within a large bank no longer provided us the optimal platform to give families the objective and unbiased advice they needed.
How do I know my assets are safe?
The safety and security of our clients’ assets is our deepest concern. As a registered investment adviser, we are required to hold all client assets with a third-party custodian. After conducting extensive due diligence, we chose Schwab for their recordkeeping, tax reporting, trading capabilities and website and online support. During the 2008-2009 financial crisis, the Schwab brand was not impacted in the manner that other large investment firms were. Schwab has more than 70 years of experience and currently oversees $6.9 trillion in client assets as one of the largest U.S. custodians.
Will the management of my investments change?
Your investments will continue to be managed with the care and diligence you’ve come to expect from The Smith Group, but with a wider universe of products and services available. As an independent team operating within the Merrill Lynch structure, we traded the various investment portfolios at a local level based on guidance from Merrill Lynch Global Research. As an independent firm, we are able to continue using the superb institutional research of Merrill Lynch, as well as having access to the insights of other top Wall Street firms’ research (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, and others). We are now able to consider thought leadership from around the industry rather than the opinions of only one firm. Seeking the most competitive returns with the least amount of risk and most favorable tax consequences will continue to be of paramount importance.
Will my fee structure change?
As always, clients will pay a percentage fee to engage our team for advice and planning. What will become more obvious are the custody fees which all clients pay, but which were generally not transparent in the past. This increased transparency is just one aspect of our duty to clients as a true fiduciary. The amount of portfolio turnover (i.e., number of trades), which can increase fees, will likely be reduced and only occur on an ‘as needed’ basis. We will continue to focus on minimizing the drag from taxes and transaction fees.
Is the entire team following to go independent?
Yes. The entire team will remain intact as we transition to independence and looking forward to providing a more rewarding experience to our clients.
Why did you choose the names Emerald Advisors and The Smith Group Multi Family Office?
I chose the name Emerald Advisors because we are routinely referenced as the being from The Emerald City. And while that is the name under which we are registered, clients have long known us as The Smith Group and that will continue to be our dba. We are moving to a new office, but will remain in Bellevue, WA, just minutes from downtown.
How will things change?

One of the biggest changes is that any apparent conflicts of interest will be removed. In traditional financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch, the custody of client assets, the manufacturing and/or access to products and the delivery of advice are all housed in one institution. Now that The Smith Group Multi Family Office is an independent registered investment adviser, there will be delineation between the advice that we provide our clients, the location of where their assets will be held (custody) and the providers for products and services. This mirrors how family offices have provided services for ultra-affluent families for decades.

Second, as a registered investment adviser, we will be held to the fiduciary standard of care for our clients. Previously, we operated as brokers of a large bank under a suitability standard. The combination of the segregation of advice, product development and custody, along with the fiduciary standard, means that we will now be able to evaluate decisions from a more advantageous and objective perspective and seek out optimal solutions regardless of whether those solutions reside at Bank of America Merrill Lynch or another financial institution altogether.

What do you mean when you say The Smith Group acts as a fiduciary?
As an independent registered investment adviser, The Smith Group assumes a legal fiduciary duty to serve our clients’ best interest and disclose material conflicts of interest. We understand that trust, advocacy and transparency are essential to any long-term relationship. As a firm, we want our success to be fully aligned with our clients’ success.
Will there still be regulatory oversight?
As a federally registered investment adviser, we are subject to the fiduciary standard and certain regulatory responsibilities and will be subject to examination by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
What are the next steps?
As the newly-independent Emerald Advisors, LLC and The Smith Group Multi Family Office, we will strive to maintain the utmost integrity, communication and transparency during this mutually beneficial transition over the lifetime of our relationship with you and your family. We will be in touch regarding the documentation required to seamlessly transition your assets. The coordination of your tax, legal and estate planning objectives remain an integral part of our practice and roles as your investment advisors and advocates. We stand dedicated to delivering exceptional personal service, comprehensive financial planning and advice as well as customized solutions.
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About Us

Client-First Philosophy

Our firm was built for and around our clients. We believe an open and transparent, client-centered relationship is the key to long-term success. Our thorough wealth planning process is driven by listening first, formulating a strategy, and following through with advice and world-class service.

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Securities offered through M.S. Howells & Co. Member FINRA/SIPC.
Advisory services offered through Emerald Advisors, LLC. M.S. Howells & Co. is not affiliated with Emerald Advisors, LLC.
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