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Wirehouses, IBDs Share Updates on Comp Policies, Services & Exec Hires

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Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman recovered from COVID-19, according to a Bloomberg report of April 9. The executive, 61, recently told the bank’s employees that he had flu-like symptoms in March and tested positive for COVID-19, but he did not require a hospital stay during the illness; the news was confirmed by a spokesperson.

Morgan Stanley, which has some 15,500 financial advisors, is buying discount broker E-Trade Financial for $13 billion, creating a firm that could have over $3 trillion in client assets. Also, Gorman has told Morgan Stanley’s employees that the bank planned to keep its employees on board throughout the year.

According to Gorman, some 90% of the bank’s employees are working from home due to the coronavirus. “I am incredibly proud of you! Working from home, supporting our clients and this great firm, and helping your families throughout the physical and mental stress,” he said in a memo.

Gorman also said recently that it postponed an important change to its compensation plans, set to start April 1, by six months. Morgan Stanley’s Field Management Head Vince Lumia says the wealth unit knows its advisors “are facing enormous challenges personally and professionally, while at the same time taking great care of your clients in a very difficult environment.”

The change being pushed back to Oct. 1 involves the planned jump in the levels of yearly fees and commissions (or production) under $5 million used as thresholds in the incentive comp grid. The shift generally boosts the production thresholds below $5 million by some 10%.

Changes to start May 1 include one tied to net acquired assets, that lets advisors earn up to 3 percentage points on the credit rate applied to revenue from clients with NAA of $5 million and up. It also uses assets plus liabilities to determine if a household is subject to its small-household policy.

Wells Fargo: Several weeks after it moved to raise the client asset level at which an account fee was waived, Wells Fargo Advisors put that decision on hold. The wirehouse first told its roughly 13,500 employee advisors that — starting Sept. 1 — client households would need assets of $500,000 in their accounts to avoid fees that typically are as high as $300 per year; earlier, the asset level to avoid the charge was $250,000.

However, the bank then chose to suspend the move due to “the current environment and to ensure we are able to best serve our clients.” The news came as Wells Fargo took a number of steps to address client concerns during the coronavirus pandemic. “We will continue to evaluate this fluid situation and take additional action as necessary,” CEO Charlie Scharf said in a statement.

Wells Fargo’s advisor headcount stands at roughly 13,510 vs. about 13,950 a year ago. That’s down some 1,575 (or nearly 10.5%) from Sept. 30, 2016, when the firm had close to 15,085 registered reps and began making headlines for creating millions of fake accounts.

Bank of America-Merrill

BofA recently said that it has no plans to cut any jobs this year, according to CEO Brian Moynihan. “We don’t want our teammates to worry about their jobs during a time like this, and we’ll continue to pay everybody, even those who can’t work from home,” Moynihan said about the coronavirus pandemic on CNBC in late March.

In addition, BofA has added some 2,000 staff members in March and is moving roughly 3,000 employees to its consumer and small-business units in response to the COVID-19 crisis, according to a memo seen by Bloomberg.


Cetera Financial Group says it is giving its 7,000-plus advisors a new set of services to help them “navigate the current market disruption.” The services include free on-demand certified financial planners who can step in if an advisor becomes ill or is unable to serve a client during the pandemic, as well as free access to fee-for-service payment technology for 90 days.

Its Advisor Resiliency Pack also gives advisors access to video featuring panels of veteran advisors, fund managers and others who share their best practices for helping clients during difficult markets, as well as information and consulting on the $2 trillion national stimulus plan or Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

“The impact of the global pandemic has created challenges for advisors and their clients that are unparalleled in our time, combining market volatility with significant and widespread business disruption,” the firm said in a statement. Cetera includes Cetera Advisors, Cetera Advisor Networks, Cetera Financial Institutions, Cetera Financial Specialists and First Allied Securities broker-dealers. Late last year, the IBD group said it had about $240 billion in client assets.

“It’s during times like these that our advisors live into their purpose in the fullest, as they work tirelessly to calm client fears and provide much needed advice while managing the impact to their own businesses,” said Cetera CEO Adam Antoniades, in a statement.

“We felt it was incumbent on us to move quickly to understand what could help them best serve their clients, reach more individuals who need advice, and adapt to new business challenges.”

New COVID-19-related services specifically focused on operations and business development now being offered to Cetera’s advisors include: techniques for managing expenses such as labor, real estate and administrative costs; best practices in managing human capital and organizational changes; and direct-to-client communications and related tools to promote investor education, engagement and guidance.

Advisor Group

The Advisor Group of independent broker-dealers, which completed its purchase of the Ladenburg Thalmann in mid-February, says it has hired a former executive from LPL Financial and made a series of other leadership shifts.

Gregory Cornick is now Advisor Group’s president of Advice and Wealth Management. He was with LPL for the past six years and served as executive vice president, treasurer and head of Corporate Development and Advisor Financial Solutions.

The move could support one of Advisor Group’s possible branding strategies: positioning itself as “the LPL alternative,“ a term recruiter Jon Henschen said was being discussed at Advisor Group after it announced its big deal with Ladenburg in November. (LPL is self-clearing, while Advisor Group and Ladenburg firms are dual clearing.)

But Jamie Price, president and CEO of Advisor Group, insists the role being assumed by Cornick was “on the docket” prior to the Ladenburg deal. “We want to continue to forge the senior leadership team to drive our growth strategy …, and that’s not defined by LPL or anything but Greg’s capabilities,” Price said in an interview, adding that the firm wants to “carve out its own horse race.”

For his part, Cornick says he has “a ton of respect for LPL.” While with the rival IBD firm, “I watched and admired Advisor Group’s momentum built around its multi-brand, multi-custodial platform,” he added. “I observed Jamie and his team and am now excited to join it.”

Price also addressed Advisor Group’s credit rating, which Moody’s Investors Service cut last week to B3 from B2 in response to the Federal Reserve’s cut in interest rates and the effect on profits. “The news came as no surprise whatsoever,” Price said. “All [broker-dealers] are under watch, and we’re no different.”

Advisor Group, he explained, is “of a sufficient size and scale with a solid financial [backer], Reverence Partners, … and we have more cash on the balance sheet than ever … to weather a storm like this.”

The firm now has some 11,300 financial professionals and $450 billion in client assets. Its nine broker-dealers are FSC Securities, Royal Alliance, SagePoint Financial, Woodbury Financial, Securities America, Triad Advisors, Investacorp, KMS Financial Services and Securities Service Network.

Other updated leadership moves include: Gregg Johnson, now executive vice president of Recruiting & Revenue Acquisition for Advisor Group; Cindy Hamel is chief strategy and corporate development officer; and Matthew Schlueter is president of Products and Platforms.

Janet Levaux is editor-in-chief of Investment Advisor. She can be reached at [email protected].