‘Talent Move of the Year': Why Michael Kitces and Jeffrey Levine Joined Buckingham

The advisors have big plans.

Michael Kitces, Adam Birenbaum and Jeffrey Levine. (Courtesy photo)

Michael Kitces, Adam Birenbaum and Jeffrey Levine.

(Courtesy photo)

Michael Kitces and Jeffrey Levine, two of the most prominent financial advisors, have left or closed their respective RIAs to join Buckingham Strategic Wealth in what one executive called the “talent move of the year.”

Kitces has long been one of the wealth management industry’s most recognizable advisors. Until Thursday, he was a partner at Pinnacle Advisory Group, a Columbia, Md.-based RIA that manages $2 billion. He also runs the popular Nerd’s Eye View blog at Kitces.com, and speaks at dozens of industry conferences every year. Kitces is also the co-founder of other independent advisory-related businesses, including XY Planning Network, AdvicePay, New Planner Recruiting, fpPathfinder, and FA BeanCounters.

In 2008, Kitces partly separated from Pinnacle to spend more time on Kitces.com and attend conferences. On Thursday, he separated entirely from Pinnacle, which still has eight other partners, to join Buckingham. Kitces is not taking any clients with him, he told RIA Intel.

The move to Buckingham will not impact the ownership of his other businesses.

Levine has grown into a wealth management celebrity in his own right while contributing to Kitces.com and as a regular on the advisor conference circuit. Until recently, he was the CEO and director of financial planning at BluePrint Wealth Alliance, a Garden City, N.Y.-based RIA managing approximately $80 million. Levine and one other employee joined Buckingham in February.

As the number of employees, contributors, and the volume of research has grown over the past two years, so has the eponymous Kitces.com. The website and its affiliated podcasts, including Levine’s weekly Financial Advisor Success, now reach 250,000 readers and listeners each month. There are currently nine people working full-time on the website. Kitces envisions there will eventually be between 20 and 25, including editors and technology professionals.

But the rise of Levine’s personal brand created an internal conflict, Kitces said. As more referrals and opportunities presented themselves, it was hard to determine which advisor’s firm should reap those rewards.

To resolve that conflict and help Kitces.com continue to grow, the two advisors decided to join a large RIA they say emphasized financial planning and was well-positioned for the future.

In January, after independently ranking Buckingham as their top choice, they called the RIA and decided to join it shortly after.

“When Michael Kitces and Jeffrey Levine call you, you pick up that call, you listen, and you move very fast. We truly believe that this is the headline talent move of the year,” Adam Birenbaum, chairman and CEO of Buckingham Wealth Partners, said.

At Buckingham, Kitces will be head of Planning Strategy and lead an effort to advance the company’s evidence-based approach to financial planning, while growing a new wealth management practice from scratch and continuing to tend to his other companies. He “lives a thousand lives,” Levine said about his busy colleague also known for his distinct blue dress shirts.

Levine, who is bringing his practice with him, will be director of Advanced Planning and focus on the education and support Buckingham provides its advisors.

Changes in wealth management are happening at a blistering pace and keeping up with the best software and other solutions is tables takes for top firms. How well companies observe and relay digestible — yet still valuable — information and insights to their advisors will differentiate them, Levine said. It will be his responsibility at Buckingham to continue to improve that.

“To have that hands-on connection, not just purchasing white papers or research from a third party, is a very significant difference,” Birenbaum said.

“And, the reality is, we had the two preeminent thought leaders in planning choose Buckingham as the place they wanted to apply their thought leadership and practice. I don’t think it should be lost on us that Jeffery transitioned his clients as part of this. I think that’s powerful.”

But the leader of Buckingham is emphatic that the RIA still wants Kitces.com to continue its trajectory and Kitces and Levine are an important part of that. “We think that together we can make it even bigger.”

Buckingham Wealth Partners is among the nation’s largest independent wealth managers and employs nearly 500 professionals across the U.S. Its RIA subsidiary, Buckingham Strategic Wealth, includes over 140 advisors in over 40 locations across the country. More than 1,000 advisors use Buckingham’s turnkey asset management platform, or TAMP. At the end of 2019, Buckingham’s businesses collectively managed or were the administrators to more than $50 billion.

Buckingham is owned in part by Focus Financial Partners, the only publicly-traded, pure-play RIA aggregator. The company’s leverage ratio raised eyebrows last year but it was “firing on all cylinders” when it reported its fourth quarter results in February. Kitces and Levine said Buckingham’s ownership was not a concern to them.

“Any firm that’s on a path for national scale and reach will end up with capital partners at some point, it’s almost inevitable,” Kitces said.

He added that every capital partner wants a favorable return on their investment and consequently “has some strings attached.” Although, the long-term focus of Buckingham and Focus Financial aligned with what he and Levine we looking for, Kitces said.

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