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Wirehouse Q2 Earnings Analysis: UBS Outpacing Rivals

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Statistics recently compiled by UBS put its Americas’ operations ahead of its wirehouse rivals in terms of net new money and assets per advisor for the first half of 2011, which some experts say are “impressive” results.

“UBS has traditionally had the smallest sales force but with the highest average assets per financial advisor and highest revenues per FA,” said Chip Roame, head of Tiburon Strategic Advisors in the Bay Area. “I think this is due in part to its willingness to recruit and pay up for these FAs.”

Overall, UBS’ wealth-management operations in the Americas were dwarfed by those of Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney: UBS’ revenue in the Americas was roughly $3 billion for the first six months of the year vs. $6.2 billion for Wells, $6.9 billion for Morgan Stanley and $7.0 billion of BofA-Merrill Lynch. 

In terms of overall revenue growth, Merrill Lynch had the best results–improving 15% vs. 12% for UBS and Morgan Stanley and 8% for Wells Fargo.

The size of the wirehouse advisor forces (excluding bank advisors) is:

  • Morgan Stanley: 17,638
  • Merrill Lynch: 16,241
  • Wells Fargo: 15,194
  • UBS; 6,862

Annualized revenues (or fees and commissions) per advisor are now roughly $912,000 at Merrill, $867,000 at UBS, $776,000 at Morgan Stanley and $648,000 at Wells Fargo. These production levels expanded from a 10% year-over-year pace at Merrill to a 16% clip at Wells Fargo.

Despite its size–or perhaps because of it–UBS advisors attracted $16.3 billion in net new money in the first half of 2011. Morgan Stanley drew $14.3 billion, while the other two firms chose not to disclose such information in their earnings information.

“UBS is doing well with its small size given all the consolidation in the industry,” said Bill McGovern, head of the recruiting firm B-D Search in St. Petersburg. Fla., in an interview.

While all the wirehouse firms had a tough couple of years (2008-2010) and UBS’ three rivals went through major mergers and acquisitions, “UBS had many positive trends going its way and is generally considered supportive, service oriented and stable by its advisors,” added McGovern, a former Raymond James executive.

In terms of net new money per financial advisor, UBS’ FAs added about $2.4 million on average in the first six months of 2011 vs. $802,000 per FA at Morgan Stanley.

chip roame“UBS’ net new money per FA for the first half is impressive,” said Roame (left). “It even led Wells Fargo in the first half in aggregate, which has far more FAs.”

On a per-advisor basis, assets grew year over year at a 5% clip at Merrill and as much as 19% at UBS. UBS has the highest AUM per advisor at $113 million, followed by $98 million at Merrill, $97 million at Morgan Stanley and $74 million at Wells Fargo.

These figures are notable, observers say. “Looking at first-half statistics, I see them as number one in assets per FA and number two in revenues per FA,” Roame shared.

Assets under management for the wirehouses firms’ wealth-management units overall grew between 10% at BofA-Merrill and 20% for UBS. Morgan leads the charts in terms of total AUM with $1.7 trillion, followed by Merrill with $1.5 trillion, Wells with $1.4 trillion and UBS with nearly $775 billion.

It’s important to look at how the performance growth of the wirehouses and advisors tracks the markets, McGovern points out. “They need to be substantially ahead to say they are doing something special here,” he said.

During the first six months of 2011, the S&P 500 gained 6%, and the Dow Jones was up roughly 7%. “What looks pretty good to me is that UBS’ growth in assets of 20%,” McGovern said.


In terms of the changing headcount, Merrill added 942 advisors in the first half of the year, while UBS grew by 102 FAs and Wells Fargo by 92. Morgan Stanley, which been laying off low producers, declined by 449.

The Merrill figures include FAs in the mass-affluent Merrill Lynch program, which is being expanded in 2011. The firm plans to have 1,000 Merrill Edge advisors in both branches and the call center by year-end.

“When you see growth in the numbers that says you are getting mounting brand loyalty and keeping FAs, rather than having advisors desert,” said McGovern.

In early August, UBS hired four advisors from Merrill Lynch with yearly fees and commissions of about $2.1 million to join its operations in California and Florida. The combined FAs have roughly $800 million in assets under management.

UBS Americas wealth-management operations are led by Robert McCann, a former wealth-management executive at Merrill Lynch, who joined UBS in October 2009.


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