As Morgan Stanley Smith Barney reportedly faces changes ahead for its brokerage unit, including slashing support staff jobs, combining offices and raising production requirements, all eyes turn to how any decisions may affect its advisor force.

"To me, it just strikes me as you're cutting and putting a challenge on the organization and cutting service levels just at a time when you need more service," said Danny Sarch, president of White Plains, N.Y.-based financial services recruiting firm Leitner Sarch Consultants. "And that will affect the advisors."

Details on some of Morgan Stanley's new plans could be unveiled as early as next week, wire news reports said this week. That could include eliminating some of its complexes, raising production thresholds for offices and cutting staff in compliance and support roles.

A Morgan Stanley spokesperson declined to comment on the reports, which are not said to include cuts to its advisor force totaling more than 16,000.

But the changes will inevitably affect the way Morgan Stanley advisors run their businesses and serve clients, Sarch argues, as they are already grappling with new technology changes at the firm. That could make the firm vulnerable to more advisor moves from the firm, Sarch said, that may be seen later this year.

Competition for advisory talent between wirehouse firms remains strong, as evidenced by new moves reported by On Wall Street this week. Merrill Lynch snapped up a veteran Morgan Stanley advisor duo with $377.8 million in client assets and $5.02 million in production in Tampa, Fla. Morgan Stanley also picked up a three-member Merrill Lynch team in Washington, D.C.

Regional firms have also attracted a fair number of wirehouse advisors from firms including Morgan Stanley. Last month, Raymond James & Associates hired Morgan Stanley veteran advisor Tom Shoup in Atlanta, while father/son team Paul and John Keats left Morgan Stanley for RBC Wealth Management in Chevy Chase, Md.

Those moves all come as Boston-based research firm Cerulli Associates sees wirehouse firms vying to protect their market share of client assets in the coming years as investors shop around.

"Morgan has certainly been very aggressive in trying to bring people in, more so than Merrill in playing offense, but they also lost a lot a lot of people," Sarch said.

Morgan Stanley has seen a host of new changes in recent months, further cutting its regions down to 12 from 16, and putting some key executives in new management roles.

The new changes Morgan Stanley is considering come as it is looking to boost its brokerage business's pre-tax profit margin up from 12% to 20% in coming years.

"They're putting a lot on the line to keep their cost cutting consistent with what they promised the street," Sarch said.

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All On Wall Street content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access