If he had to do it all over again, Watt Wetmore Webb probably would never have jumped to Barclays Capital from BNY Mellon.
The advisor and portfolio manager was fired less than two years later and ordered to give back $1.4 million of his $1.6 million signing bonus, according to a recent decision by a FINRA arbitration panel.
Webb moved to Barclays in October 2012 following a seven-month courtship during which Barclays allegedly made a number of verbal promises. Webb said he was told, for example, that he'd be able to run a proprietary strategy he devised for his clients in the same way he did at BNY Mellon.
Webb managed more than $400 million in assets for high-net-worth clients as a senior director of portfolio management at BNY Mellon.
Webb argued that because Barclays failed to live up to its promises he should be relieved of any obligation to repay the signing bonus he received.
The FINRA arbitration panel disagreed, ordering him to relinquish the bulk of the bonus and pay Barclays $653,000 in attorneys' fees and more than $54,000 in interest and costs.
Problems erupted soon after Webb joined Barclays. The central issue stemmed from the fact that Webb managed his accounts on a relationship basis rather than on an "account by account" basis, as required by Barclays. Webb believed that the investment guidelines he set should apply over the broad relationship he had with clients who had multiple accounts, including for different members within a family. Barclay, however, was required to monitor Webb's accounts on a stand-alone basis.
It wasn't long before Webb started receiving repeated warnings from Barclay's compliance department advising that his accounts were in violation of his designated portfolio parameters.
Webb argued that monitoring for portfolio compliance on a per account basis harmed clients from a tax perspective. Barclays countered that doing otherwise could create serious conflicts of interest exposing both Barclays and Webb to customer complaints for breach of fiduciary duty, unsuitability due to overconcentration and violation of FINRA's "know your customer" rule.
Webb's attitude only aggravated the situation. Rather than attempting to work with the firm, Barclays claimed that Webb was "rude and derisive in his communications with compliance personnel and his manager," even though the firm tried to accommodate him, according to the award.
"He refused to go along," the panel wrote in its decision. Webb dismissed Barclay's proposed solutions to the problem, calling them "asinine" and comparing them to a "letter from the DMV."
"He was his own worst enemy in some respects," Los Angeles attorney Eric Epstein said of his client. "But in other respects he was sold a bill of goods that never came to fruition."
Epstein explained that Webb did not react well to Barclay's broken promises. "They make all sorts of promises of how rosy things are going to be once you move over, but once you move over and you get your clients over, things don't go so well sometimes," he said.
Webb was fired in April 2014, a week after an argument with his manager over the reassignment of one of his sales assistants. Barclays allegedly promised that he would always have two sales assistants.
Webb claimed that he was fired in retaliation for complaining about Barclay's internal customer performance reports, which Webb said were false and fraudulent.
The panel wasn't swayed. "The evidence convincingly showed Webb was terminated because of his failure to follow internal Barclays policies and procedures and the manner in which he interacted with his colleagues and management," the panel wrote in its decision.
Barclays' attorney, Devin Donohue of Los Angeles law firm Palmer, Lombardi & Donohue, declined to comment on the arbitration.
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