Brooke’s Note: National Advisors Trust was a great idea — an RIA-owned trust company and custodian, launched to acclaim that fell asleep for a few years until Ron Ferguson came along and seemed to put it on a path toward its destiny. Now, seemingly without warning, he’s out the door. We did our best to get, and give, a sense of what may have happened.

After more than four years as chief executive of National Advisors Trust Co., a period which saw dynamic growth for the RIA-owned trust company, Ron Ferguson has resigned.

NAT’s chairman, Robert S. Kaspar, announced Ferguson’s departure Monday in a letter to shareholders that began “I am writing to let you know that Ron Ferguson resigned from his position as CEO of National Advisors Trust Company effective September 10, 2012, to pursue other opportunities. We are grateful for Ron’s leadership over the past four years and wish him well.”

The departure comes two and a half weeks after NAT’s annoucement that services would be available to shareholders on the custodian platforms of three of the major custodians: Fidelity, TD Ameritrade and Schwab. The announcement said that the services were already available on Fidelity and TD Ameritrade and would become available on the Schwab custody platform beginning in the fourth quarter.

“The ability for the RIA to choose the trust custody platform that is most convenient for the RIA has been a desire held by many of our firms for a long time,” Ferguson said in the Aug. 21 announcement of the new policy. “Clearly, this is a bit more work for the trust company, but it provides a clear advantage and flexibility to the RIA firm.”

But Schwab, when contacted, said NAT had jumped the gun in announcing the deal and that details were still being ironed out. “We are in early discussions about enabling trust administration services for NAT on our platform,” said spokeswoman Susan Forman.” See: TD, Fidelity and Schwab get green light to custody assets of advisors who use National Advisors Trust.

Under pressure?

There has been speculation among industry sources that Ferguson has been under fire since that incident. Kaspar, however, denies that it had any bearing on the resignation.

“It had nothing to do with it,” says Kaspar. “[He] resigned to pursue other business opportunities. There is no other detail.”

Ferguson could not be reached for this article.

An industry source says the crossed wires with Schwab were an issue but that Ferguson, a no-nonsense manager, and his relatively laid-back Kansas-based staff may have worn on each other, leading to the departure.

National Advisors Trust president Dave Roberts will assume interim CEO responsibilities while an executive search is conducted in line with a succession plan that was approved “years ago,” says Kaspar, and the results of which will likely be announced “after the end of the year.” Roberts formerly held the CEO position at NAT.

Turnaround artist

The move to give RIA shareholders expanded custody options was the latest in a series of dynamic moves by National Advisors Trust under Ferguson’s watch. When he took the helm in 2008, the seven-year-old RIA-owned trust company offered its members a below-market price — but not much more. See: National Advisors Trust gets busy Northern Trust-ifying the RIA business, minus the big fees.

NAT now has about 138 shareholder advisory firms and provides custody for $7.8 billion in assets — compared with $3.7 billion in 2009. The trust company also offers trust administration services to non-shareholder RIAs.

Ferguson launched the Trust Representative Office program in 2009, a marketing program that allows investment advisors to offer a full range of trust and trust custody services to their clients under private-label branding, with administrative services provided by NAT. He also initiated Trust Officer Inside, in which trust officers are parachuted into an RIA to work with advisors and clients as needed.

NAT has added several new firms in the past year, most notably Mariner Wealth Advisors, a $1.3 billion firm that recently took a majority stake in the Tulsa, Okla.-based wealth management firm Adams Hall Asset Management LLC. See: See: Mariner Wealth Advisors buys a $1.3 billion wealth manager that first unwound its ties to a bank.

Ferguson was also gung ho on signing on attracting firms that use alternative, or non-standard, assets — specifically those advisors who have clients with hard-to-value assets such as oil, gas, real estate and timber. See: The top 10 people to watch in the RIA business in 2012, Part 1.

“We’ve seen more firms looking for a home for their non-standard assets knocking on the door,” Ferguson said back in March. “Bring 'em over here!”

Letter from chairman of the board of directors of NAT to shareholders

September 10, 2012

Dear Shareholder,

I am writing to let you know that Ron Ferguson resigned from his position as CEO of National Advisors Trust Company effective September 10, 2012, to pursue other opportunities. We are grateful for Ron’s leadership over the past four years and wish him well.

National Advisors Trust has experienced significant success during Ron’s tenure, including 53% growth in trust and custody assets and 20% increase in net profits. We are now preparing for the company’s next level of strategic progress and growth.

The Board of Directors has begun the transition process that will lead to a successor CEO. In the meantime, I want to share with you the board’s and management’s plans for leading the company during this process. The following is a high-level overview of our transition process:

Current NATC president, Dave Roberts, will assume interim CEO responsibilities and will continue to execute the Company’s approved Strategic Plan.

Board Chairman, Bob Kaspar, along with the assistance of the Board of Directors and the board’s Human Resource Committee, will meet with executive management on a regular basis to monitor the effective operation of the Company and execution of the Strategic Plan.

A CEO Search Committee will be formed to spearhead the search process for a successor CEO. The search committee will include representatives from executive management, the board and other shareholders.

We are grateful for the work accomplished by Ron and the entire company on business progress and our Strategic Plan. The Company is in a strong financial position and its employees are committed to pursuing the vision of National Advisors Trust Company as the trust company “partner of choice” for the registered investment advisory industry.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me or any of the other board directors.

Respectfully,

Robert S. Kaspar

Chairman of the Board