Morgan Stanley's wealth management business is on a roll, notching a number of records even as advisor headcount continues to slide.
Like its rivals, Morgan Stanley has been navigating regulatory and technology changes that have been upending the industry, from the Department of Labor's fiduciary rule to the challenge presented by robo advisors.
The firm's wealth management business reported record fee-based assets of $1 trillion for the third quarter, up 17% from the year-ago period. Executives said the fiduciary rule was an initial catalyst for clients to shift from commission-based to fee-based accounts, but the recent quarter demonstrates that there are more factors involved.
"It's been quite positive and diversified, and not just retirement accounts," CFO Jonathan Pruzan said during an earnings call Tuesday. Clients see the value proposition of a fee-based and are gravitating to it, Pruzan said.
Morgan Stanley Wealth Management also reported record pretax profits of $1.1 billion, up 24%, record revenues of $4.2 billion, up 9%, and record client assets of $2.3 trillion, up 10%.
The firm's client assets surpass that of Bank of America's Merrill Lynch, which reported last week that it had $2.25 trillion.
Advisor headcount at Morgan Stanley declined by 97 brokers to 15,759, a drop of less than 1%. It remains the largest wirehouse by headcount and assets.
Advisor productivity rose to a record $1.07 million per FA, up 10% from the year-ago period.
While the business shows strong signs of healthy growth, Morgan Stanley is preparing to roll out new digital tools and products, including a robo advisor, in order to stay ahead of technology trends.
"The digital strategy and product roll out is on schedule. We're in beta testing right now and will go out to the full network soon," Pruzan said.
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