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Bernstein Burnout: Why Is The Firm Grossly Underpaying Their Advisors?

There has been an ever-growing stream of Bernstein advisors that have left the firm over the past year. And that stream has seemed to pick up speed as 2019 turned into 2020. Generally, a movement that finds advisors exiting a firm like Bernstein finds its way to one, maybe two competitors at best; but that hasn’t been the case here. Bernstein advisors have exited to RBC, First Republic, Wells Fargo, Stifel, Morgan Stanley, and others.

So why has the exodus from Bernstein accelerated and seems to be doing so again?

Beyond the different ways that competing firms have become comfortable with taking on the Bernstein advisor and their model, and paying them huge bonuses to do so, it comes down to payout. Yes, simple comp grid mathematics is moving the needle in a huge way.

To elaborate it out a bit further, the largest advisors and teams at Bernstein are topping out at 22-23% on the firm’s grid. A team generating $5M in annual production is getting a net somewhere around $1.1M – $1.25M in W-2 compensation. Fully half of what a Morgan Stanley, UBS, or Wells Fargo team would receive – to say nothing of even more generous payout options at places like RBC (albeit just a few basis points higher than the wires).

That kind of blatant disregard for what should be considered ‘fair market value’ in terms of the traditional services and the role that AB advisors play with their clients – simply stated, isn’t fair. Bernstein advisors are wising up to the truth that they are grossly underpaid versus their peers. All the while managing UHNW relationships for elite clientele; generally serving 70-90 wealthy families per team.

Now take that same business to competitors like RBC or Wells Fargo and the team makes $2.5 M – $2.6M annually, operating in an ‘open architecture’ environment, and only has to move 80 households while they are at it.

The disparity in payout is a massive blind spot for Bernstein and will continue to, deservedly so, agitate advisors into the welcoming arms of competitors. One wonders when Bernstein, based on departures, may be forced to make meaningful changes to their grid?

 

Regional Firms Continue Recruiting Hot Streaks: 5 Reasons Why The Trend Will Continue

Regional firms have been absolutely crushing it over the past 24 months.

Most prognosticators thought that the fiduciary rule and protocol exit disruptions would disproportionately positively affect independents and RIA aggregators. While those businesses have benefited, the boom has taken place in the halls of Stifel, Raymond James, RBC, Janney, and others.

To drill down a bit, three players have gathered assets like they’ve never done before: RBC, Stifel, and Raymond James.

Here are five reasons why it’s happening.

  1. Culture, culture, culture. Merrill Lynch was an advisor’s dream twenty years ago. Brand cache, a belief in the advisor as to the firm’s revenue center, stock stability and golden handcuffs, the ‘Thundering Herd’, and smart national marketing campaigns. Now, it’s an afterthought at Bank of America. Regional names now ‘feel’ like Merrill felt in the 90’s – entrepreneurial and collegial. Their opinions and client-focused businesses matter again. Culture.
  2. Recruiting deals at regionals are either equal to or larger than wirehouse deals. Just five years ago that simply wasn’t the case. Management at places like RBC saw an opening when UBS and Morgan Stanley decided to de-emphasize recruiting two years ago and reduce their recruiting deal numbers and stepped into the gap.
  3. Executive leadership. As wirehouses have seen significant churn amongst their leadership ranks, regionals have been ‘steady as she goes’. Furthermore, regional leadership has made smart moves and kept their powder dry with respect to the DOL fiduciary rules. They waited, wirehouses panicked.
  4. Demographics. As large scale, legacy teams are at the height of their earning power (and in the midst of a historic bull market), they are looking for a soft landing that won’t nip at their heels with new quotas connected to households, loans and checking accounts. Quotas that if not met take a chunk out of their grid payouts.
  5. Financial crisis residue remains. Wells Fargo is still fighting the stigma of a scandal that is two years old. Merrill is no longer Merrill. Nearly everyone took a big bailout. But regionals don’t even have a whiff of what remains of that stink. No bailouts, no ‘too big to fail’ documentary cameos. It is an easy sell to clients who previously may have questioned a move to a regional name. That question is gone, replaced by ‘could it happen again’ to legacy wirehouse firms.

Add it all up and you have legions of million-dollar producers taking VIP trips to RBC, Stifel, and Raymond James on the regular. And the pace doesn’t look like it’s about to slow. Every single quarter wirehouse headcount dwindles. No new narrative or bloated recruiting deal can compete with the reality of the above.

Regionals will continue to win.