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UBS advisor ranks shrink again as U.S., global wealth units merge

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UBS will merge its U.S. and global wealth management units ― though the marriage will take place with fewer advisors on the payroll than a year ago.

At 6,822 advisors, the brokerage force for UBS Wealth Management Americas has shrunk by about 200 brokers, or 3%, from the same period a year ago. The firm also reported outflows of net new money of $500 million, though that was less than the $2.3 billion outflows reported for the prior quarter and $1.3 billion for the year-ago period.

The shrinking advisor force occurs as the wirehouse has made several key policy shifts over the past 18 months, including deemphasizing recruiting. UBS also left the Broker Protocol last month, following Morgan Stanley's lead.

Though headcount has fallen, it's still within the range UBS executives have said they are aiming for: 6,500 to 7,000 brokers. Despite the decline, profits are up. UBS's Americas unit reported pretax profits of $347 million, up 3% from the year-ago period.

The shift away from recruiting has shown up in the firm's earnings statements. Compensation commitments with recruited financial advisors fell to $181 million from $199 million, a 9% year-over-year decline that helped keep overall expenses from mushrooming. And recruitment loans to financial advisors dropped to $2.6 billion from $3 billion, a 14% year-over-year decline.

Advisor pay, meanwhile, rose 14% to $864 million.

Like some of its rivals, the wirehouse relies more heavily on fee-based business and lending to drive revenue growth. Net interest income rose 9% to $442 million and recurring net fee income rose 8% to $1.4 billion. Transaction-based income rose a more modest 3% to $383 million.

The merger, slated to occur February 1, is intended to improve efficieny and builds on previous attempts at cost-sharing across the Swiss bank's business units.

"Two years ago, we began to more closely align the divisions, and today's announcement reflects our continued evolution," UBS CEO Sergio Ermotti said in a statement. “It will mean improved efficiency, more sharing of best practices, greater returns on our investments and enhanced client service.”

Martin Blessing and Tom Naratil, chiefs of the international and U.S. wealth management businesses, will serve as co-presidents of the new merged unit.

The merger does not affect field structures or advisor compensation plans, according to a spokeswoman.

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