It wasn't so long ago that the vast majority of time spent by wealth advisers was dedicated to the basics: maximizing returns on investment portfolios.

That meant for a wealth adviser like Bruce Treitman his day was filled with completing financial transactions on behalf of wealthy clients who had multimillion dollar nest eggs.

"When I started in this business 20 years ago, it was all just bond sales or stock trading," said Treitman, who manages a team at Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown. "Now, it has become so much more complex. You have to understand all aspects of a client's wealth, from estate planning to charities to teaching the family members about finances."

Indeed, times have changed in the wealth management industry, which has become more competitive than ever.

An explosion of wealth in L.A. and across the nation has brought increasing numbers of people into the field. It has also prompted wealth managers to offer an array of services beyond money management to get a bigger piece of the action.

In essence, L.A.'s wealth managers today mostly guide overall investment strategy and deal with the big picture for clients, but leaving the detailed execution to teams of people both inside and outside their firms.

And this changed picture is reflected in the Business Journal's first-ever list of the top wealth managers in Los Angeles, as compiled and ranked for the Business Journal by R.J. Shook of Winner's Circle LLC. (Treitman is ranked No. 8.) While many of the top-ranked wealth managers got their start as strictly investment advisers, they have vastly expanded their offerings in recent years.

"The business of wealth management has changed," said Frank Ulf, chairman, chief executive and co-founder of Covington Capital Management in Los Angeles.
"There are roles for trust and estate lawyers, for accountants and for financial planners. The role for the wealth manager is to be the quarterback of the team."

Wealth boom

Driving this change has been the convergence of two major trends. One is the sheer magnitude of the wealth in Los Angeles County, which according to TNS Financial Services was home to 268,000 millionaires in 2006, far more than any other county in the U.S. and more than most countries.

Among those, tens of thousands of those have net worths exceeding $10 million, which is generally regarded as the threshold for elite private wealth managers.

The wealth has been fueled by entrepreneurs selling their businesses, the boom in technology, the huge run-up in residential and commercial real estate values, and, of course, the entertainment industry.

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