Area financial advisers ranked high by Barron's

March 6, 2009
| By Pete Daly |
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Two West Michigan financial advisers are ranked among the top 1,000 in America, according to the Feb. 9 issue of Barron's magazine.

Cited by the magazine were Bruce H. Johnson, consulting director and founder of CapTrust Financial Advisors in Holland, and Eileen DeVries, senior vice president and wealth management adviser of the DeVries, Freeburg and Mraz Group at Merrill Lynch in Grand Rapids.

Winner's Circle, a research organization acquired by Barron's last year, produced the rankings. Research focused on assets under management, revenues, quality of the adviser’s practices and other factors.  The Top 1,000 is a first-time expansion of Barron’s traditional annual list of 100, which Johnson was named to in 2008.

The Barron's article lists the name of Johnson's firm as Wachovia Securities Financial Network, but he explained that CapTrust is actually an independent company and Wachovia is only its custodian — "the firm we clear trades through."

Barron's noted that 2008 was a year in which every asset class posted large losses, and diversification didn't help. Now, financial advisers are trying to restore investor confidence.

Johnson said CapTrust now has about $500 million in total investments.

"A year ago, we were at approximately $650 million," he said. "It's been a very, very difficult year for everybody."

The election in November built some hope that there would be change in the economy, said Johnston. "But the reality is, the forces that are in play are going to take some time to get some traction from the policies now in effect."

Johnson said he formed CapTrust in 1997. At the start there were three partners and it was loosely affiliated with several other financial adviser firms of the same name, scattered throughout the country.

Today, however, it is a stand-alone organization that employs 11.

Johnson said he was "very thankful" for the honor of being listed in Barron's, but he wanted to emphasize that CapTrust "is about a team of people, of which I play a part. I'm a coach, a cheerleader, a strategist, an encourager."

The success of the company, as reflected by the Barron's listing, he said, is a result of 11 people coming together.

"Everything we do is as a team," he added. "There's never just one person on a client relationship."

CapTrust was "forward thinking" when formed, said Johnson.

"Instead of operating in a traditional stockbrokers' world, we chose to operate in a world where we are providing our clients access to world-class money managers, as opposed to us trying to pick the stocks ourselves," said Johnson.

He said they have about 100 private clients, mainly representing families, but they also serve corporations and endowed foundations.

Johnson, 49, was born in the Thumb area of Michigan but grew up in Kansas, where he attended the University of Kansas. As a youth, he spent summers with his grandparents in Michigan, and met his wife, Margie, at a church camp in northern Michigan. They were married in 1982 and have five children, ages 13 to 24.

Johnson worked at an investments firm in Grand Rapids for 15 years, commuting to his home in Holland. He said he finally decided to start his own business in Holland in order to be closer to his family.

Eileen DeVries has worked as a financial adviser for 33 years with high net worth individuals, foundations and retirement plans across the United States.

Despite the challenges in investing, she said she is "still enjoying the clients."

"Now has been a more trying time than other times … not as much fun as other times. But you just work with what the client wants to accomplish," she said.

The DeVries, Freeburg and Mraz Group at Merrill Lynch has probably 300 clients, she said, with total investments in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, equity investments are down for virtually everyone, but "those people that we have in cash are still in cash," said DeVries.

When asked if she has a prediction regarding the current economic situation, she replied, "I really don't do predictions."

DeVries' group at Merrill Lynch has many years of cumulative experience. She noted that teammate Amy L. Freeburg has 22 years of experience and the other teammates have more than 10 years each. The youngest member of the team is DeVries' daughter, Rachel P. Mraz.

In 2007 and 2008, DeVries was named to Barron's Top 100 Women Financial Advisers, and in 2005, she was the recipient of the Athena Award from the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. She has been an active member of nonprofit organizations including Frederik Meijer Gardens, Davenport University, Holland Home, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, Junior Achievement and United Way. DeVries graduated magna cum laude from Boston University in 1972.

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