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Tacoma's Columbia State: Haven for Wirehouse Vets

The breakaway broker phenomenon continues at Columbia State Bank, Tacoma, where the brokerage unit has hired three wirehouse veterans over the past six months, and the $5 billion-asset bank may not be done.

"I'm getting more inquiries," said Dean McSweeney, manager of the bank's investment unit, which is a PrimeVest Financial Services program. "We're talking with two additional candidates right now, both of them dissatisfied wirehouse brokers."

For Columbia State Bank, a unit of Columbia Banking System Inc., nabbing such talent may allow its brokerage unit to boost revenues significantly this year. The business is looking to do $3.5 million this year, a big jump from the approximately $2 million it tallied last year, McSweeney said.

CB Financial Services, as the bank's brokerage unit is private-labeled, had $525 million of assets under management at end-March.

Columbia's mini hiring spree, which has helped bring its financial-consultant total to 13, took place amid some signs of a slowdown in wirehouse defections. In January, for instance, BoA Global Wealth President Sallie Krawcheck announced that the business had "historically" low broker attrition in 4Q09 and that it planned to add advisers.

But a report from Aite Group found that just 15% of advisers within wirehouses were not considering leaving those firms. Columbia's latest brokerage hires came from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and from BoA's Merrill Lynch & Co., according to McSweeney. The most recent, Brooke Johnson, joined the bank about three months ago from Morgan.