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Down But Not Out

When Bill Buechler slipped into a coma, little did he know he'd emerge from his experience with the best firm ever.

David J. Drucker, 04/19/2007

You're a successful financial advisor on an extended Italian vacation in the summer of 2004. You notice what looks like red bite marks on your leg, but think little of them until you start to feel ill. Stopping at hospitals along the trip route, you obtain antibiotics, which make you feel better for weeks at a time, but the illness still comes back. By November, you're in a coma, your organs have shut down, and surgery is now required to control the problem--including a liver transplant.

"No one knows for sure what kind of spider bit me," says Bill Buechler, owner of Barclay Partners Asset Management in LaJolla, Calif., who would go on to have multiple surgeries, the last one in December 2005. The spider's generic classification is less important than the fact that Buechler, now 53, had plenty of time to think about his life and business while laid up in the hospital.

Buechler joined Prudential--now Wachovia--in July 1984 after getting his start as a foreign currency trader with his own commodities trading firm in London. "At Pru, I had an aggressive options practice, a job that lined up well with my commodities background." His attention eventually turned to a then-new vehicle--401(k) plans--and the possibilities they held. "The concept of helping people prepare for retirement and also creating an annuity for myself was very attractive, so I made a commitment to the 401(k) market." Buechler built that business to 135 401(k) plans and $750 million under management. "I thought that would last me my entire career, but that was before fee compression. 401(k) plans--from the broker's standpoint--had become an endless service commitment for less and less compensation."

But one thing leads to another and Buechler, whose 401(k) activities had given him expertise in pension plans, earned a Certified Investment Management Analyst (CIMA) designation and began consulting on the pension plans of the same companies to which he'd sold 401(k) plans. "I found that more enjoyable," he says, not to mention he side-stepped the fee compression problem with this new focus. And so it was--until a spider entered the picture.

Fast forward post-coma to May 2006. Buechler is sporting a new liver and has a new career in mind, as well. "I left Wachovia and my commission-based clients and opened Barclay on June 1. "I needed a fresh start, and I no longer wanted to deal with commission business nor the compliance issues that accompanied it," he says. Hiring Schwab to custody client assets, Buechler left his commission clients to his former partners and went 100% fee-only--a complete break from the past. "I put myself in a do-or-die situation. I couldn't go back, but I never regretted it."

For Barclay's team, Buechler hired a portfolio manager he'd known from the old days and a new COO and marketing director. "We also have a part-time compliance officer, and I expect to bring on another portfolio manager," he says.

How was he able to ramp up operations so quickly? "Our portfolio manager brought about $150 million of assets with him. Barclay didn't buy the assets but, rather, has a revenue-sharing agreement with him. His clients did, however, become clients of Barclay with our portfolio manager retaining the primary relationship to service them." Buechler says the revenue-sharing arrangement for each new client the firm gets is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Further, Barclay is already up to $250 million under management--a number that could jump to $1 billion very quickly if a few key prospects come through. How is Buechler achieving such rapid growth? "We manage institutional money. We are at somewhat of a disadvantage being a new firm with a short track record, but we're finding ways to overcome those problems."

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