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Stifel's wealth profits jump despite flat head count

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Stifel's pretax profits from its wealth management division were up 22% even as advisor head count remained flat despite a spurt of aggressive recruiting efforts.

CEO Ronald Kruszewski, however, remains upbeat about his firm's efforts to lure in top talent from competitors.

"I’m very pleased with our recruiting efforts," Kruszewski said during an earnings call.

The St. Louis-based brokerage firm reported Monday that it had 2,267 financial advisors as of June 30. Head count was down by 10 from the previous quarter.

While Stifel's earnings report did not show big net increases in advisor numbers, the firm's wealth management division notched pretax profits of $187 million, compared with $153 million a year ago.

Kruszewski said that broker retirements had kept a lid on head count for the quarter. The firm does not disclose the number of advisor retirements.

"While we don’t disclose the number of growth advisors that we’ve added, what I can say is this number is up significantly from the prior quarter and momentum remains strong, not only as we’ve been seeing elevated levels of onsite business by recruits, we’re also turning an increasing number of them into Stifel advisors," he said.

The regional firm has hired about 67 new advisors this year, according to the company. The most recent new hires, Jeff Sutton and Kerry Mangano, left Wells Fargo to work for Stifel in Modesto and Newport Beach, California, where the firm has picked up more than a dozen of its new recruits. Sutton and Mangano oversaw more than $300 million in combined assets, according to their new employer.

Regional BDs have been luring away top talent from wirehouses for more than a year. Raymond James, for example, reported its brokerage ranks hit a record 7,719 independent and employee advisors for the second quarter, a net increase of 434 from the year-ago period and 115 from March 2018.

The reason for the movement from wirehouses has a simple explanation, according to recruiter Michael Terrana.

"It's culture, no question," Terrana says, adding it’s the culmination of a long-term shift.

"When the culture was in the wirehouses ― and I'm talking twenty years ago ― guys went to work at the wirehouses. There was easier access to management and they were more nimble in terms of getting things done," he says.

That's disappeared, he says. Plus, recent shifts in wirehouse policies ― notably the Broker Protocol exits of UBS and Morgan Stanley ― have underlined the reasons for some advisors to switch channels, says Terrana, whose recruiting firm, Terrana Group, is based in Chicago.

Stifel's efforts to lure in talent may be more successful in other parts of the country, according to Terrana. "In Chicago, we have not seen many big teams go to Stifel," says Terrana.

And though head count may not have risen, Stifel's asset levels have. The firm reported total client assets of $277 billion, up 7.6% from $258 billion for the year-ago period. Fee-based assets grew even faster, jumping 15.3% to $91 billion.

Net revenues for Stifel's wealth management unit rose 10% to $497 million, outpacing a 3.6% increase in expenses.

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