The number of advisors with the four wirehouse firms slipped about 2% in the past year to 52,987, according to their latest reports. Meanwhile, total assets rose about 15% to $8.3 trillion in 2019, as the major stock indexes improved 23% or more.
Morgan Stanley’s wealth unit is now down to about 15,500 from roughly 15,700 a year earlier, while UBS Americas is close to 6,550 vs. 6,850 in 2018.
Wells Fargo’s headcount stands at some 13,500 vs. nearly 14,000 in the prior year. Merrill’s advisor group (excluding those with Bank of America’s Private Bank) decreased by 60 to 17,458 over the past year, including the Merrill Edge reps.
The headcount figure for the four wirehouses has “been diminishing every year, and going back to the financial crisis, it’s now dramatically lower,” said Danny Sarch, head of Leitner Sarch Consultants.
“The trend is very clear,” Sarch added, “but it’s so hard to make a generalized statement [about this] given the lack of clarity there is around these figures.”
These firms and others can include anyone with a Series 7 license in their data, he points out, and then exclude these individuals in the overall advisor production figures.
“When it comes to the advisor attrition being net up or net down or the number of advisors recruited in or retired out, it is not very clear,” Sarch said. “This lack of transparency makes me very suspicious.”
The headcount for UBS, for instance, includes advisors in Latin America.
(Merrill recently said its advisor attrition was about 4% in 2019.)