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Wachovia to Hire 900 Reps, Again, with New Private Client Exec.

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Morgan Stanley isn’t the only firm with a new brokerage executive tapped from the ranks of Merrill Lynch: Wachovia Securities has signed James Hays to replace the retiring James Donley to lead 6,000 of its 10,400 reps.

Hays, who worked in Merrill’s private banking and investment group since 2001 and earlier in training and leadership for the firm’s private-client operations, is now in training himself at Wachovia and should take the reigns later this month.

For Wachovia President and CEO Danny Ludeman, Hays’ top job is to increase the productivity of Wachovia’s advisors in terms of revenue, so the firm can win “the horse race” within the next five years. He says the firm is neck and neck with Smith Barney and UBS for the second spot and needs to pull ahead.

In terms of recruiting and retention, Wachovia is riding the momentum of 2005, when some 900 reps were hired. The firm would like to bring on a similar number of reps going forward, including 100-plus rookies.

Ludeman insists the Richmond, Va.-based brokerage has “been a bit surprised by the reception we’ve gotten” from FAs, who seem thirsty for support, products and services, the right pay scales and a regional-firm culture. “People want to understand and have transparency on how they are getting paid, and not all firms are doing that well,” he says.

Wachovia intends to spend about $100 million in ’06 to enhance technology and tools for advisors and clients. The brokerage will also devote significant resources to its brand appeal by advertising more than its rivals, according to Ludeman. “Our success has been in getting the message out,” he says. “We have a low profile by intention, but we do want our story out.”

The tweaks Wachovia made to its ’06 deferred-bonus plan caught the attention of Dow Jones in mid-December, which said at that the changes are “infuriating” some brokers.

A new “growth-rate” bonus rewards those beating last year’s commissions and fees by 15 percent with 2 percent of production. And top brokers need to bring in $1.2 million (rather than $1 million) to get a bonus equal to 5 percent of production. A bonus tied to fee-based business drops to 1 percent.

The changes, insists Donley, “have caused very little stir in the field. Our FAs know they have to sell more to make money. Other brokerage firms are no different.”

Wachovia’s “premier advisors” bring in $700,000 in production and more. “Our experience is that these advisors can grow at a much faster rate than some others and do so more easily,” Donley explains.

Attrition at the “premier” level has been 1 percent or less, he says. The firm regularly brings groups of 100 advisors together to discuss issues, train and meet executives. “These things keep attrition down,” says Donley.

“I would be very disappointed if we didn’t replicate [the recruitment of 900 FAs] in 2006,” Donley says.