Tom Berthel steps down as CEO of Berthel Fisher B-Ds, remains at holding company

Broker-dealer industry veteran Tom Berthel is stepping away as CEO from the management of the day-to-day operations of the broker-dealers and registered investment advisor with 360 financial advisors who work with $9.8 billion in client assets.

The most prominent of those firms is the independent broker-dealer Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services Inc.

Berthel, who co-founded the firm in 1985, will remain as the CEO and chair of the holding company while focusing on strategic initiatives and capitalization, according to a statement on Thursday by the company.

Berthel is being replaced by the chief operating officer of the two broker-dealers and RIA, Andrew Christofferson, who will be president and CEO of those firms as well as Berthel Fisher’s inhouse insurance agency.

Berthel Fisher has a long history of selling alternative investment products, some of which have come back to bite the firm.

For example, Berthel Fisher & Co. Financial Services, one of the broker-dealers, at the end of 2022 reported open claims by investors against the firm of $32.1 million in total, or almost eight times what it reported a year earlier, according to Berthel Fisher’s annual audited financial statement, which it filed this winter with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The firm’s audited financial statements, called Focus Reports, for the last two years don’t identify the investment or investments that are causing the firm’s auditors to warn of spiraling potential legal claims against the firm.

Berthel Fisher has been known to sell a variety of alternative investments, which at times can be expensive and volatile and, if they go south, can lead to a slew of investor complaints against a broker-dealer.

In 2019, Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. arbitrators awarded six investors $1.16 million in a case in which they alleged Berthel Fisher had sold them inappropriate complex investments. In 2018, Finra censured the firm and fined it $675,000 over sales of nontraded real estate investment trusts, nontraditional exchange-traded funds and other alternative investments.

Other Berthel Fisher promotions at the wealth management subsidiary level include: Paige Swartzendruber, chief business development officer; Brian Rupp, treasurer and chief financial officer; and Joanna Schaul, chief administrative officer.

“These moves have been in the works for some time, so I’m proud that this day has finally come and relieved that our financial professionals will be in great hands going forward,” Tom Berthel said in a statement. “Not only are these leaders uniquely prepared for their new responsibilities, but the appointments enable me to accelerate Berthel Fisher’s long-term growth plans while giving me the opportunity to closely collaborate with the senior leadership team going forward.” 

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