Bank of America Corp.'s Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney were nearly even last month in the race for recruiting brokers, according to the research firm Discovery Database.
Among the other large brokerages, Wells Fargo Advisors held a slower but steady pace, while UBS Wealth Management U.S. made no effort to keep up, taking itself out of the hiring game.
Morgan Stanley Smith Barney brought in about 120 advisers, while Merrill Lynch added 100. Wells Fargo Advisors recruited 55 brokers and UBS took in about 10. "The strategy depends on what stage the company is in," said Bob Ellis, principal in the wealth management group at the consulting firm Novarica, a division of Novantas LLC.
John Shields, principal and co-founder of MainStay Consulting Group, said the acquisitions and joint venture completed this year at Merrill, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and Wells Fargo Advisers are still settling in. "Let's wait a few more months until we declare an ultimate winner or loser" in terms of recruiting, he said. "Things are still in a state of flux."
UBS is at a different place. The firm's U.S. brokerage is undergoing management changes, letting go of lower producers and training some managers to be producers again. "They are preoccupied with pruning the tree, so they are going to be more 'opportunistic' in their hiring," Ellis said.
Dennis Gallant, the president of Gallant Distribution Consulting, which does consulting and research for financial services firms, said the three other wire houses have defined their strategies, with the completion of their acquisitions and joint venture. "UBS is further behind that curve," he said, and may be "just letting attrition take its effect." While UBS obviously does not want to lose top producers, he said, it might not want to add a lot either because of the cost.
UBS' new wealth management head, Robert McCann, said in an interview that the brokerage's strategy is focusing on retaining its advisers rather than dishing out big payments to bring in new ones.
Representatives for Wells Fargo Advisors and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney declined to comment on Discovery's data. A Merrill spokeswoman said it does not share monthly recruiting data and declined further comment. A UBS spokesman disputed Discovery's numbers, but would not provide other data.
Discovery's data is not exact because it is not reported publicly by the firms. The reports sometimes include moves from the previous month because of a lag time in gathering information.
Overall, the movement of advisers from the top-four brokerages continued to decline, falling for the third straight month in October, according to Discovery. More than 320 brokers left from the four major firms in October, down roughly 5% from September.
Shields attributed the lack of significant movement to brokers still feeling a little woozy after the uncertainty in the stock market over the past year. Also, many advisers received retention packages this year, which have tied them down for several more years.
Gallant said there is a correlation between the S&P 500 index and hiring at wire houses rather than brokers choosing to go independent. "You always see a rise in independence in a recession or a down market," he said. That reverses with wire houses attracting more talent when financial markets improve.