Wealth management is running strong at Stifel, as the firm reported pretax profits at the division rose 24% over a year ago.

First quarter profits for Stifel's advisory business rose to $99 million from $79 million for the same period a year ago. Net revenues rose to a record $329 million, up more than 10% from $297 million.  The firm said that the strong performance was driven by a higher number of fee-based accounts.

The strong quarter for Stifel's wealth management division mirrors growth at competing firms Wells Fargo and Morgan Stanley. Morgan Stanley reported a 27% increase in profits, while profits at Wells Fargo's Wealth, Brokerage and Retirement unit climbed 18%.

During an analyst call, Stifel CEO Ronald Kruszewski said that the firm's $150 million acquisition of Birmingham, Ala.-based Sterne Agee was expected to close near the end of the month. He added that Stifel believes it can retain up to100% of Stern Agee's financial advisors. Total advisor headcount for Stifel in the first quarter fell slightly, down six to 2,079 from the previous quarter.

Kruszewski also took aim at the Department of Labor's proposed fiduciary rule, saying that the proposal would force non-managed IRAs to shift to managed IRAs, driving up costs. 

"The DoL's proposal is exceedingly complicated and, absent modifications, would restrict investor choice," Kruszewski said. "The proposal's negative impact on investors would be on those who could least afford it."

Kruszewski added that while the proposal could raise revenues, the firm believes the cost to investors and firms would be too great.

Stifel reported profits of $43 million for the whole company, down 9% from the year ago period.  

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