UBS’ Santucci on Training, Recruiting: Weekend Interview

The wealth-management COO shares his views on how UBS continues to attract new reps as well as veterans from rival firms

Paul Santucci is COO of UBS Wealth Management Advisor Group for the Americas, which includes about 6,900 FAs. He joined UBS in 2003 from Wachovia and in February 2010 was promoted to his current post by Bob McCann.

He says that the wealth-management group's current advisor-training program was in place before ex-Merrill Lynch (BAC) leader McCann came on board (to head the UBS advisor operations in the Americas) in early 2009, though it was suspended for a period of time.

McCann and other executives that have joined UBS over the past two years or so, like Bob Mulholland (another Merrill veteran, who joined UBS in early 2010), have given the training program more of “a common-sense approach,” said Santucci (left) in a recent interview with AdvisorOne.

“Firms still hire 1,500-2,000 advisors a year hoping that some will stick,” he continued. The UBS approach is more successful than that of its peers, he says, because “we’re making sure the best managers have an opportunity to hire [new advisors] onto teams–and it’s working. We do not want to hire the most but the best, and so far we have been lucky.”

Can you give us some more details about the UBS training program?

We hire up to 200 to 225 new financial advisors [a year], with 90% of them going onto teams and helping us create succession plan for our veteran advisors.

We’ve seen vast improvement within this program, and those within it are doing well. In contrast to other firms, we’ve had many–75%-getting into the first- and second-quintiles in terms of performance vs. 15-20% at other firms over the past few years.

We believe we have more success through smaller groups. Branch managers can sit down and coach the new financial advisors and other team members.

Trainees are given guidelines … and certain goals of revenues and assets for say, at seven months, and branch managers decide to hang on to the advisors at the seven-month mark. Most are in the first and second quintile at this point.

What types of people are hired into the training program?

Most individuals entering the program come in without a license and go through that process with us. They’re from all walks of life. Our numbers, in terms of diversity, have improved significantly with about 30-35% [in this category], including women.

We don’t have an age-range target but tend to hire those just out of business school and some who are making career changes, such as 45-50 years old who are apt to go on to be sole proprietors of a practice.

Those who are 25-30 are more likely to join teams, and we are really looking at those who want to be hired to join teams. They’re the majority of our [trainee] hires.

Why is the team approach working for UBS?

Our branch managers realize how important it is for new financial advisors to enter the business and for there to be proper succession planning.

We are only giving new advisor-training tasks to those in branch managers who have done this work successfully in the past, meaning that they are able to help advisors perform at the level of those in the first and second quintiles.

How are veteran advisors joining FAs as team members?

In terms of experienced advisors who want to come to UBS, our flow from the branch managers is at a peak. We are taking a long hard look at them, and those joining us come with a lengthy list [of clients.]

We do specific due diligence on new recruits. We ask if we are we the right firm for them, because we have to help them move over their business. And we ask if they are right for us–through a letter of understanding. We’re at a record level when it comes to doing this type of due diligence.

Again, the majority of veteran advisors are joining us from our natural competitors.

Why do you believe the recruiting pipeline is so robust?

It’s my opinion that we have a turnaround story to tell. We are one of the best in wealth management. Our branch managers are out telling the story. They are good business coaches, and those recruiting for our organization are having success.

In any marketplace, like New York or elsewhere, people talk to each other, and they want to build [their practice] at best place, which makes people continue to want to talk to our organization. It’s been a great past two years.

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