HighTower has established itself in the Philadelphia market with the addition of a former Merrill Lynch team with $650 million in assets.

The Sarian Group is the ninth large team the Chicago-based firm has added in the past year and the 36th since its founding in 2008. The two advisors who comprise the group, Gregory C. Sarian and Francis X. Masse II, have 35 years of combined experience and join the firm as partners and managing directors.

According to HighTower’s executive vice president of business development, Mike Papedis, the firm’s advisor-owned was one of the factors in the group’s decision to move.

“HighTower’s appeal to dynamic advisor teams and our ongoing expansion into new marketplaces reflect the strength of our omnichannel model as the future of the financial services industry,” Papedis said in a statement. 

At Merrill Lynch, the duo had amassed $650 million in client assets by focusing on emerging life sciences companies and their high net worth executives.

Sarian had been at Merrill Lynch since 1992 and founded the group in 1997. Masse joined Merrill Lynch in 1999 and became part of the Sarian Group in 2003.

“HighTower’s open-source model gives us access to multiple custodians and clearinghouses, allowing us to bring our clients competitive pricing, products and services,” Sarian said in a statement.

The model has commanded the attention of a number of advisors because it offers a higher degree of independence and competitive upfront incentives without requiring the advisor to build their own business from scratch, according to Mindy Diamond, who was involved in the deal and is president of the career consulting firm Diamond Consultants.

“It certainly gives advisor much more autonomy and freedom than he has at a traditional firm and it gives him significant upfront money, albeit not as large as what the wirehouses pay, but still more significant any than any other option in the independent space from an upfront perspective,” she said. “And those that join believe that the firm is either likely to have a public offering or liquidity event in the next 3 to 5 years so they believe that the equity they’re given as part of the transaction will give them a second bite at the apple.”

According to Diamond, HighTower growth strategy has been based on a boutique and highly selective model that adds only a few top-tier teams.

“Their strategy is not to bring on hundreds of advisors,” she said. “They’re essentially only interested in recruiting corner office advisors in any given market, and in only select markets.”

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