From the January 2015 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Morgan Stanley Tweaks Bonus Plan; Adds Sports, Entertainment Group

Morgan Stanley is moving to defer slightly more compensation for its advisors in 2015, experts say, but just how financial advisors will react to the shift is debatable.

With the changes, Morgan Stanley's 16,162 advisors could see 1.5% to 15.5% of their total bonuses paid in cash and stock deferred in 2015 as part of the wirehouse's unified pay grid. This shift entails an average shift of about two percentage points in deferred comp next year vs. this year, according to the company.

Morgan Stanley's move seems aimed at retaining advisors, simplifying the firm's compensation plans and even saving it some money, industry observers say.

“What I know overall is that this is a very modest change to a bonus,” explained recruiter Mindy Diamond of Diamond Associates in Chester, New Jersey, in an interview.

“It was done to make the pay grid easier to understand, and more firms will do the same,” said Diamond, who does recruiting work on behalf of Morgan Stanley. “Regulators are pushing for more deferred compensation,” as it may be seen as being better aligned with client interests than cash payments.

While she sees the shift as “largely a non-event,” others paint a different picture.

“It's a big company, so even a modest change can add up,” said compensation consultant Andy Tasnady of Tasnady Associates in Port Washington, New York, in an interview. “If you’re doing $10 billion in sales, a 1% shift from cash to deferred compensation is $100 million. That has a profit-and-loss benefit.”

Of course, that means less money in an advisor's pocket come January 2016. “I hope a large number of advisors don't have that much more deferred compensation than cash, because advisors are not happy if they see cash taken away,” Tasnady said.

As an example, a rep with fees and commissions of $1.1 million and who has been with Morgan Stanley for 10 years probably has about a 48% payout, or $528,000, according to The Wall Street Journal. Some 8.3% of that, or $44,000, would be deferred. In 2016, 10%, or $52,800, could be deferred.

“There could be segments where [the deferral] is more than the advisors would like,” he explained, especially younger reps who have lower length-of-service bonuses.

The amount to be deferred is likely to vary widely across Morgan Stanley's advisor force, experts say.

“If you’re getting around $40,000 a month in cash and now you only get $38,000, that is still a lot of money, but it's a change” an advisor might feel, said Tasnady. “Likewise, if you’re going from $20,000 to $19,000 a month, that big change is notable, too. No one wants to go down in monthly pay.”

Anxiety Issue

Along with the drop in monthly cash pay in 2015, advisors may have concerns about what's next as CEO James Gorman continues to find ways to improve corporate performance and boost profit margins.

“They may wonder, is this a first step in a multiyear move to more deferred compensation?” Tasnady added. “The fear of advisors is not only about the change made for the next year but is about the message it sends. Is there going to be a boost in deferred compensation every year? Or is this a onetime adjustment?”

For advisors on set budgets, for instance, the shift could make a big difference in their plans. “If you need every dollar and are already thinking of leaving,” said Tasnady, this shift could affect an advisor's decision to leave Morgan Stanley. “People look for the final straw.”

Diamond, though, sees the situation differently. “It's not remarkable enough to impact attrition or recruiting,” the recruiter said. “It won't be the difference in making an advisor leave or not join the firm.”

Still, she says, the industry dynamics make for interesting times. “There will continue to be a percentage of advisors interested in independence,” Diamond said. And although she doesn't expect any mass movement out the door, “All big firms are vulnerable,” the recruiter said, as retention packages given to advisors several years ago become fully amortized.

Plus, when it comes to choices for wirehouse reps leaving their firms, “The horizons are expanding, and there are more versions of independence than ever before,” Diamond said. “We’ve seen a number of large teams go to some version of independence.”

These moves raise the attention of colleagues. “It's a trend that is going to continue,” she said, “but in terms of quantity, it doesn't mean we’ll see a stampede.”

Go Team Go!

Morgan Stanley Wealth Management recently set up Global Sports & Entertainment (GSE), a new division to serve the unique needs of the sports and entertainment industries.

“High-net-worth earners in the sports and entertainment industries have sophisticated wealth-management requirements. Our services are provided by a group of experienced financial advisors, backed by specialized training and the full resources of a leading, global investment bank, which we believe will set a new standard in the industry,” said Gregory J. Fleming, president of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in a statement.

According to the wirehouse, an inaugural group of financial advisors across the country has been chosen for GSE based on their experience working with athletes, entertainers, directors, writers, producers, owners, agents and business managers. These FAs have completed a training program, earning them the title of Sports & Entertainment Director, which means they provide sports and entertainment professionals with access to customized resources and programs, including asset and liability management, philanthropic and lifestyle advisory services, family governance and advanced financial planning, insurance, investment banking and private equity solutions.

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