UBS reported a first-quarter profit of roughly $2.9 billion, topping analysts’ expectations and giving the Swiss-based investment bank its best results in nearly three years vs. a loss of about $2.6 billion in the same year-ago period.

In the quarter ended March 31, UBS’ Wealth Management Americas division has a pre-tax profit of 15 million Swiss franc vs. a pre-tax loss of 35 million Swiss francs in the first quarter of 2009.

The number of UBS financial advisors in the Americas, however, fell by 217, or 3%, to 6,867 in the first quarter of 2010 vs. 7,084 in the fourth quarter of 2009 “as a result of voluntary departures and limited recruiting.”

A year before, UBS had about 8,760 financial advisors. Thus, it is down nearly 1,900 FAs, or about 22 percent, from a year ago – meaning that it has lost more than one in five advisors.

Client assets stand at 768 billion Swiss francs or 112 million Swiss francs per FA – or about $101 million per FA in U.S. dollars. This is up from 711 billion Swiss francs a year ago and 737 billion Swiss francs in the fourth quarter of 2009.

In its first quarter, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch said its 15,005 advisors had total client assets of nearly $1.45 billion or $96.6 million per FA. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, with 18,140 advisors, had $1.6 trillion in AUM, representing an average of $88 million per advisor.

According to several news sources and company reports, UBS’ advisors have yearly sales of $736,000 per FA vs $807,000 at Merrill Lynch and $685,000 at Morgan Stanley.

UBS’ U.S. wealth management’s personnel costs rose 13% over the fourth quarter to 1,069 million Swiss francs.

Financial advisor compensation grew due to “higher accruals for variable compensation [including deferred compensation] and the introduction of the GrowthPlus program, a compensation program based on prospective revenue production and length of service with UBS,” the company said in its quarterly report.

Year over year, the division’s personnel costs grew 6% in U.S. dollars, “due to higher financial advisor-related compensation on higher revenue levels and the introduction of the above-mentioned GrowthPlus program,” as well as from higher FA recruiting costs.

GrowthPlus is aimed at rewarding advisors with five or more years of experience with the bank and $500,000 and up in yearly sales or production.

Financial advisors in the Americas had net new money outflows of 6.4 billion Swiss francs vs. 11.3 billion Swiss francs in the previous quarter. “Though net new money remained negative, outflows related to financial advisor attrition decreased. Net new money from financial advisors with UBS for more than one year was positive for the first time since the first quarter of 2008,” the company said.