Long before the firm announced in April that it was merging with Wachovia, brokers at First Union Securities complained about a corporate infrastructure taxed by growth and change.

“The operations department is a half continent away from us,” one respondent says. “And the people working in operations are unskilled and low-paid.” Adds another, “[Operations has] gotten better, but we still have a long way to go.”

Everyone hopes Wachovia doesn't try to shove its banking products down the throats of First Union reps. “The best thing they can do is leave the broker alone, especially those with relatively high levels of experience,” says one respondent.

Like battle-hardened soldiers, First Union reps are prepared for yet another — as yet unknown — name change. Those in the Midwest and West say the First Union brand doesn't carry much weight anyway.

Another change isn't exactly a positive, though. “We've had two or three name changes in the past four years,” one producer says. “That has to affect our image with the public.” Observes another rep: “It's more of a problem for the clients. As a broker, I'll get new stationery and new business cards, and business will go on as usual.”

Although the firm pushes no products, reps complain that their own 401(k) plan limits them to proprietary funds. And training programs for brokers could be improved, respondents say. (The training program for rookies has been put on hold all together.)

On the plus side, First Union producers are tickled about the technology at their disposal. “I have a lot of buddies at other firms, and they don't have anything that comes close to the technology we have,” brags one broker. “Our technology is absolutely the greatest,” echoes another.

Despite the firm's enormity, brokers feel comfortable running their own businesses, and many branches retain their regional-firm feeling. “It's still a caring firm,” sums up one rep.

Firm Score Average: All Firms
Work Environment 8.14 8.32
Freedom from pressure to sell certain products 9.62 9.23
Realistic sales quotas 8.35 8.65
The firm's hiring and recruiting practices 7.32 7.66
Payout 7.58 7.72
Benefits 7.84 8.36
Support 7.29 7.94
Sales support 7.58 8.02
Quality of sales assistants 7.68 7.87
Quantity of sales assistants 6.74 7.20
Quality of sales ideas 7.40 7.82
Ongoing training 6.88 8.15
The quote and information system 8.46 8.70
Quality of the firm's operations 6.80 7.96
Account statements 6.78 7.83
Product 7.61 7.98
Quality of the firm's research 7.02 7.54
The firm's fixed-income pricing 7.46 7.77
Quality of the products offered 8.36 8.64
Management 7.96 8.60
Your branch manager 8.35 8.31
The firm's strategic focus 7.38 8.25
Overall ethics of the firm 8.94 9.31
The firm's image with the public 7.16 8.54