Brokers, Trust Units Stable; Money Managers Up in Arkansas

Brokers, Trust Units Stable; Money Managers Up in Arkansas
The Stephens Building in downtown Little Rock. (Amanda Cordell)

A surge in assets under management by registered investment advisory firms in North Little Rock, Fayetteville and Little Rock has shaken up this year’s list of money managers in Arkansas.

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Sowell Management, which recently opened a new office in the Northshore Business Park in North Little Rock, grew its assets under management by a third between March 2018 and October 2019 to move to No. 4 on this week’s list of the 55 largest RIAs. At $1.96 billion under management, Sowell overtook Foundation Resource Management Inc. of Little Rock, which dropped to No. 5 with $1.28 billion. (That’s down 25% from last year’s list.)

Stephens Inc. of Little Rock and its related Stephens Investment Management Group LLC retain the top two spots on the money managers list with $10.9 billion and $4.3 billion under management respectively. Arvest Wealth Managers of Lowell held on to the No. 3 spot with $1.97 billion.

The money managers list is compiled using data from the most recent disclosure, called a Form ADV, that each RIA firm files with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission. The timing of ADV filings varies, and the list indicated the filing date for each company.

Fayetteville’s Cabana Assets Management reported $872.8 million under management in August, more than double the assets it reported in March 2018. Cabana, led by George C. Mason, moved from No. 13 on last year’s list to No. 6.

Stephens Group Asset Management, an affiliate of Witt Stephens Jr. and Elizabeth Stephens Campbell’s Stephens Group of Little Rock, made its first appearance on the list last year at No. 11. This year it moves to No. 7 with $679 million under management, an increase of more than 50%.

The highest-ranking newcomer among the money managers is Bass & Bell Inc. of Little Rock, which entered the list at No. 14 with $343 million in assets under management. Led by Robert Bass and Christopher D. Bell, Bass & Bell was incorporated early this year. It offers financial planning, portfolio management and pension consulting services.

Brokers and Trusts

The money managers list is one of three financial rankings in this issue. The list of stockbroker-dealers is ranked by number of licensed agents in Arkansas. As usual, Stephens Inc. leads the pack with 325 registered representatives, with Edward Jones a distant second despite more than 60 offices in the state.

Two firms that appeared on last year’s list are missing this year: Simmons First Investment Group Inc., an affiliate of Simmons Bank of Pine Bluff, is no longer active. Merrill Lynch, which has five offices in the state, failed to respond to repeated attempts to collect updated information.

Those departures made room for Veritas Independent Partners LLC of Conway, with 25 brokers, and USB Financial Services of Little Rock with 10.

On Pages 25-26 we rank bank trust departments — and the state’s only stand-alone trust company — by trust assets reported as of Dec. 31. The top 10 remain in the same order as last year, and No. 1 Simmons First Trust Co. of Pine Bluff topped $5 billion in trust assets for the first time.

Changes in Store

That list will have some changes next year. Integrity First Bank of Mountain Home, which had trust assets of $113 million at the end of 2018, was acquired in May by Farmers & Merchants Bank of Stuttgart, which had $153 million in trust assets of its own.

DeWitt Bank & Trust Co. and its $105.4 million in trust assets were acquired by Stone Bancshares Inc. of Mountain View in June and merged into Stone Bank in September. Stone Bank has not previously reported trust assets.

Similarly, First Financial Bank of El Dorado, which has not reported trust assets, expects to close by the end of the year on its announced acquisition of First National Bank of Wynne, which had $28.7 million in trust assets at the end of 2018.