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UBS recruits two dozen brokers. Will it hire more?

As the firm positions itself to cater to wealthy clients, UBS has recruited approximately two dozen advisors so far this year — helping to possibly offset a declining headcount.

The average new UBS hire has about $1.25 million in production and $200 million in AUM, according to a person familiar with the matter. About one-third of the new hires have come from outside the wirehouse channel.

The firm’s efforts, however, are still a far cry from the frenzied wirehouse recruiting environment of years past when both UBS and Morgan Stanley were members of the Broker Protocol.

In 2016, UBS pulled back on recruiting, citing high costs. The firm said it intended to shift resources toward advisors already at the wirehouse. Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley followed its lead, slashing recruiting budgets and leading to a depressed recruiting environment among the wirehouses. Smaller rivals, primarily regional BDs and independent firms, have maintained their hiring efforts.

Yet, all firms face a common problem: Their brokerage forces are stocked with baby boomers who will retire in the coming years.

“They all have aging salesforces,” recruiter Mark Elzweig says.

Elzweig, noting that UBS’ retirement program, says some advisors joining the firm “might see this as their last move.”

The license obtained by UBS allows the firm to manage assets for institutional and high-net-worth investors in the world’s second-largest economy for the first time.
A visitor enters the UBS Group AG's headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on Thursday, July 23, 2015. UBS Group AG and Morgan Stanley increased the assets they manage for the world's wealthiest people to more than $2 trillion for the first time, according to a study. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Some of the new hires at UBS have been substantial. A team that oversaw $6.6 billion in client assets quit Goldman Sachs to join UBS earlier this year.

At the same time, the firm’s headcount has dropped in recent quarters. The company recently reported having 6,790 advisors in its Americas business, down from 6,956 for the same period a year ago. That figure includes some advisors based outside the U.S.

Advisors leaving wirehouses have often cited a desire for more control over their practices and compensation as reasons for leaving.

The majority of the advisors leaving UBS were lower quintile producers, according to the person familiar with the matter — though the firm has lost some elite producers, including a billion-dollar team to Rockefeller Capital Management.

A team that managed $530 million quit UBS to form an RIA with help from Dynasty Financial. The group made the change in part because of what they say are the “vastly improved” technology and planning tools available to independent advisors, according to Steven Tenney, one of the team members.

UBS left the Broker Protocol in late 2018, complicating matters for advisors joining or leaving the firm. The industrywide agreement permits brokers switching firms to take basic client contact information with them — making it potentially more attractive for advisors considering a career change to stay with firms that are members of the protocol.

“I hope the advisors joining [UBS] have attorneys who have drafted agreements that have carve-out agreements — meaning that whatever clients an advisor brings with them, they can bring them elsewhere if they so choose,” Elzweig says.

One option for UBS is to recruit from other non-protocol firms, such as Goldman Sachs, whose brokers fit the wirehouse’s high-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth profile. UBS has invested in its resources for wealthy clients, and that may also appeal to elite advisors at rival firms.

“We have a clear strategy and clear belief that we can be the preeminent player in the HNW and UHNW space. And we’re looking for advisors that are aligned with our strategy, so we’ll make them an attractive offer,” the person familiar with the matter said.

While it is recruiting selectively, UBS isn’t publicizing its new hires as much as its more aggressive rivals such as Raymond James.

“The idea that they are recruiting and not publicizing it strikes me there is some ambivalence about their strategy going forward,” says recruiter Danny Sarch.

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