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Wells Fargo to combine bank brokerage, wirehouse units

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Wells Fargo will combine its bank channel and wirehouse businesses into a single unit, the bank told employees today.

The move will not affect broker compensation and layoffs are not anticipated, according to a spokeswoman.

"It made sense to simplify," the spokeswoman said.

Employees were told of the changes in a memo from senior leaders. The move was expected as Jon Weiss, head of wealth and investment management, had previously indicated the firm was studying the possibilities.

The bank channel, known as Wealth Brokerage Services, or WBS, will still be headed by Jim Hayes. He will report to David Kowach, president of Wells Fargo Advisors.

Hayes previously reported to Jay Welker, who remains head of Wells Fargo's private bank.

Like Ameriprise and Raymond James, Wells Fargo fields advisors operating in several different channels. The firm has bank advisors, a private bank, a wirehouse unit, an independent broker-dealer known as FiNet and Abbott Downing, which caters to the ultrawealthy. The firm also has a robo advisor.

Altogether, Wells Fargo has more than 14,000 advisors, but in recent quarters it has suffered from advisor attrition. All told, its brokerage force dropped to 14,226 advisors at the end of the second quarter, down 301 from the year-ago period.

The firm pinned the net losses on advisor retirements, pointing to an aging brokerage force industrywide.

Many advisors, however, also have left to work for competitors, particularly smaller regional and independent firms that they say offer more flexibility. Of the 133 wirehouse advisors who moved to regional firms during the first six months of this year, about 60% came from Wells Fargo, according to hiring announcements data analyzed by On Wall Street.

While head count fell, Wells Fargo suffered from several scandals on its consumer banking side that include the opening of millions of accounts without customer consent. The bank has subsequently faced heightened scrutiny and paid hundreds of millions in regulatory penalties.

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