Wells Fargo Advisors Hit With Payroll Crisis

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JANUARY 22, 2010, 3:41 P.M. ET.BROKER'S WORLD: Wells Fargo Advisors Hit With Payroll Crisis

   By Annie Gasparro
   A DOW JONES NEWSWIRES COLUMN
NEW YORK (Dow Jones)--Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC) is throwing its legacy Wachovia Securities advisers for a loop, with payroll changes that went into effect this month.

The new system will automatically withhold 25% of brokers' commissions for taxes, regardless of their tax brackets. The flat rate will be in place until 2011 for the roughly 11,000 brokers who make up Wells Fargo Advisors, the firm's traditional brokerage channel.

Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia a year ago, and didn't have a large retail brokerage until then.

"When you work for a company that big, once they make a decision on how they are going to do payroll, they aren't going to give anyone special treatment," said Lawrence Staat, partner at the Chicago-based law firm SNSFE, P.C. "I guess that's one of those cultural changes everyone talked about when Wells Fargo bought them."

Teresa Dougherty, spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Advisors, said there is a difference in the way the two legacy payroll systems operated. She said those changes were communicated to advisers throughout the integration, and the firm is working on a solution for 2011.

But this year, many brokers will face lower take-home pay from withholding too much because of the flat 25% rate--a frustration that will likely affect advisers producing less than $500,000 annually.

The average Wells Fargo adviser is in the $400,000 production range. If affected, advisers won't receive their tax refund until 2011.

Wells Fargo is offering impacted advisers a one-year loan with 3% interest, as cash-flow assistance while their money is tied up.

Brokers in tax brackets higher than 25%, which likely includes $1 million-and-up producers, have to elect to withhold more money before each pay period, or else face government penalties for withholding too little.

Once a broker's take-home pay reaches $1 million, which would only be for the few $2 million-to-$3 million producers, the flat-rate tax withholding bumps up to 35% on the part over $1 million.

"This is an integration nightmare," said a legacy Wachovia broker in the Midwest. "People thought 4Front was bad, but that was nothing compared to this."

4Front is the bonus opportunity scrutinized by advisers when it was offered in lieu of a retention package.

This adviser, who produces more than $1 million annually, said he doesn't expect Wells Fargo to revamp its whole payroll system on account of brokers grumbling.

"Unfortunately, the tail doesn't wag the dog," he said.

Michael Meissner, a tax lawyer and partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey L.L.P., explained that businesses use this "supplemental withholding rate," the flat 25%, for irregular compensation, such as payment from stock options or bonuses.

"Sometimes a company will use this rate [for irregular compensation] because it's mechanically easier to use a flat 25% rate and not force payroll people to recalculate" everything, he said.

Financial advisers' pay falls in to the irregular compensation category because it varies month to month based on their production.

Under Wells Fargo's new system, advisers are paid a bi-weekly "draw," and their commission checks will be processed monthly.

The draw, which is used throughout the industry, is a guaranteed weekly salary that is paid in addition to, or more often against, brokers' commissions. The draw system is used by brokerages to avoid being forced to pay advisers overtime wages.

As a result of multiple class-action lawsuits where brokers at major firms demanded overtime pay under wage and hour laws, the Department of Labor's Wage and Hour Division concluded in November 2006 that financial advisers are exempt from receiving overtime pay as long as they are paid a $445 guaranteed weekly salary minimum. Hence, the draw.

Brokers at Bank of America Corp.'s (BAC) Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney (MS) are also being moved on to new payroll systems as a result of recent mergers and acquisitions. They receive a draw and commissions, but they will not be hit with the flat 25% tax withholding.

A Morgan Stanley Smith Barney adviser in the South said he has adjusted to his new pay schedule, and as long as brokers have budgeted their cash flow well, they shouldn't have a problem with the Wells Fargo schedule.

"As a financial adviser, you shouldn't be living paycheck to paycheck, because you never know when those commissions are going to hit your bank account," the adviser said. "It's like manna from the heavens."

(Brett Philbin contributed to this article.)

(Annie Gasparro writes about financial advisers and their jobs, with a focus on the challenges brokers face as the industry moves from traditional stock brokerage to high-net-worth wealth management. She can be reached at 212-416-2244 or by email at annie.gasparro@dowjones.com.)

(TALK BACK: We invite readers to send us comments on this or other financial news topics. Please email us at TalkbackAmericas@dowjones.com. Readers should include their full names, work or home addresses and telephone numbers for verification purposes. We reserve the right to edit and publish your comments along with your name; we reserve the right not to publish reader comments.)

SoapySmith's picture
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FINET is gonna get a lot of transfers this year.....

Gaddock's picture
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Let's not forget them being so nice as to make it up with a 3% loan.

nestegg's picture
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LOL What a cluster that company is!

agebroker5's picture
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I miss A.G. Edwards. Where else do you go. I looked at all of the other full service firms and the all suck for different reasons. We had a mass exodus in my office and we have kept 50% of their accounts. I don't think that is an option. I think the only option that makes sense is Finet. At least you get screwed a little less and you get to keep all your accounts and your retention and your 4front bonus.
 

nestegg's picture
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agebroker5 wrote:I miss A.G. Edwards. Where else do you go. I looked at all of the other full service firms and the all suck for different reasons. We had a mass exodus in my office and we have kept 50% of their accounts. I don't think that is an option. I think the only option that makes sense is Finet. At least you get screwed a little less and you get to keep all your accounts and your retention and your 4front bonus.
 Did you look at Stifel, and if so what did you find that "sucked" I moved a year ago, kept 90% of my accounts and haven't been happier. I think the folks who left didn't have good relationships with clients. Two of us left at the same time last year and took most of our clients. A majority came over right away in the first 2 months!

fritz's picture
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Heard it was going to be changed in the next 30 days. 

oldpruguy's picture
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Cost me 3 grand in withholdings....not a happy camper, but not much I can do about it except take a really high draw, which I'm processing now...the draw takes the exemptions and filing status into consideration...it really sucks, i spent an entire morning out of my business day sorting out how to deal with this

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oldpruguy wrote:Cost me 3 grand in withholdings....not a happy camper, but not much I can do about it except take a really high draw, which I'm processing now...the draw takes the exemptions and filing status into consideration...it really sucks, i spent an entire morning out of my business day sorting out how to deal with this

 
Are you talking about the loan deal?

oldpruguy's picture
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no, actually not eligible for that since I'm part of a profit formula...I raised my bi-weekly draw, which is treated as salary component of compensation.

fritz's picture
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How about just let you have money that is rightfully yours, let you invest it as you choose and maybe earn 10%+ on it.  And not charging you 3% to have your own money.  I see a class action coming soon enough.

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AGEMAN wrote:oldpruguy wrote:no, actually not eligible for that since I'm part of a profit formula...I raised my bi-weekly draw, which is treated as salary component of compensation.

Is everyone eligible to do this or just profit formula?? 

 
My understanding is that Profit Formula advisors are not eligible for loan. I believe with Branch Manager approval you can raise your monthly draw to a level all parties could live with comfortably.
 

badmove?'s picture
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Whats this new deal about new ISG platform guys working in a family office? Getting pitched hard by a recruiter on this and cant find much info. Any Input?

agebroker5's picture
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Stefel and Raymond James fit the best. Raymond James caps va's at 4% comissions which is worse than Wachovia they get paid 7% from the insurance companies and pass 4 to the brokers. At least wfc let's us keep 6 Also both of those firms will be sold within a year or 2. I was under the impression that ag would never be sold also. Then you move and change your name again then the firm gets sold and you change names again. I will eventually move to Finet it's the only intelligent decision keep all retention and keep all clients.

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It must suck working for someone else.
 
What kind of mickey mouse operation is Wells Fargo anyway?  Seriously, I use Quickbooks for my payroll and it handles withholding for irregular pay without any problems.

agebroker5's picture
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You heard that the 25% w/h would be changed in the next 30 days?
 
 
In wells Fargo talk that means 6 months to a year.
 
They are offering you a loan so they can make 3% on us. In a private probably tarp related deal with the government they are loaning a big percentage of our money to the government and profiting on us.
 
 

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agebroker5 wrote:You heard that the 25% w/h would be changed in the next 30 days?
 
 
In wells Fargo talk that means 6 months to a year.
 
They are offering you a loan so they can make 3% on us. In a private probably tarp related deal with the government they are loaning a big percentage of our money to the government and profiting on us.
 
 

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Ferris Bueller wrote: Indyone wrote: It must suck working for someone else.
 
What kind of mickey mouse operation is Wells Fargo anyway?  Seriously, I use Quickbooks for my payroll and it handles withholding for irregular pay without any problems. where do you buy your office toilet paper, I'm sure we'd like to know that too. Also does your auto insurance or your business insurance cover your car when the shopping carts from the Piggly Wiggly next door hit it? Well my paper isn't bank-issue if that's what you're asking.  I don't give a rats ass how you're doing either bank boy.  If you don't like my posts, don't read 'em.  It's pretty simple.

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Ferris Bueller wrote:The guys are Stiefel are smoking crack if they don't think they will be sold in the next 2 years.Stiefel probably will be sold...not sure what biz they are in though. Stifel though probably will not...loWe will see in 2 years, your guess is as good as mine...highly doubt it, but of course anything can happen and I am sure 50% of the insider stock will vote for the deal as well. It always makes sense to sell to the companies that you are taking market share from daily...I agree. ;)Bottom line...if it does happen...which I doubt...but if it does...I spent 5 years happier than I would have at the cluster I left behind. 5 years of no BS higher payout and better service for me and my clients...oh yeah and no mandatory W/H lol. If it doesn't...then all of you folks who didn't move because you were sure we would be sold look even stupider than you do now! I can always go Indy ans stay at SF as well...so I am not too concered with whatever the future holds here.

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agebroker5 wrote:We had a mass exodus in my office and we have kept 50% of their accounts.
 
Every person I know that left that had good relationships with their clients kept 70%+, with many at 85%+.  The ones that did 60% or less were transactional or rarely called their clients. 

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eggward wrote:agebroker5 wrote:We had a mass exodus in my office and we have kept 50% of their accounts.
 
Every person I know that left that had good relationships with their clients kept 70%+, with many at 85%+.  The ones that did 60% or less were transactional or rarely called their clients. 
 
I agree.  Especially people going from AgaWachaFargo to Stifel.  I have talked to several FA's who have taken well into the 90% range.  They tell me it is an easy sell. 
 
Lets see..."Mr Jones, remember the good old days of Edwards.  Yeah, I hated the merger too.. Well, guess what, I have had enough of the big banks and I found the closest thing to AGE.  Thats right, St. Louis, 120 yrs old, client focused, over half of their back office is made up of AGE people, and over 500 AGE guys (many of whom are personal friends of mine) have moved there in the last 12 months alone.  Oh yeah, in 2009 when every other investment firm and bank went our of business or barely survived, thier stock almost doubled.  They focus on you, not your fees.  Sign here..."

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Ferris Bueller wrote:

Please tell us more about your operation, it's really intriguing. Do your lights dim when the tanning beds next door turn on? Can you hear the polishing wheel from the shoe repair guy? Fascinating stuff.

indyon   

sorry bro. game set match.
move on with your life.

(do your lights dim when tanning beds turn on? bwhahahahhaha)

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CommonSense wrote:eggward wrote:agebroker5 wrote:We had a mass exodus in my office and we have kept 50% of their accounts.
 
Every person I know that left that had good relationships with their clients kept 70%+, with many at 85%+.  The ones that did 60% or less were transactional or rarely called their clients. 
 
I agree.  Especially people going from AgaWachaFargo to Stifel.  I have talked to several FA's who have taken well into the 90% range.  They tell me it is an easy sell. 
 
Lets see..."Mr Jones, remember the good old days of Edwards.  Yeah, I hated the merger too.. Well, guess what, I have had enough of the big banks and I found the closest thing to AGE.  Thats right, St. Louis, 120 yrs old, client focused, over half of their back office is made up of AGE people, and over 500 AGE guys (many of whom are personal friends of mine) have moved there in the last 12 months alone.  Oh yeah, in 2009 when every other investment firm and bank went our of business or barely survived, thier stock almost doubled.  They focus on you, not your fees.  Sign here..."Yup thats exactly how it went...the funny thing is they moved, and inmany cases I have gotten more $$ and referrals from existing clients, because they were hesitent to send them my way he last few years at Wachovia!

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It sounds like a technical problem that someone thought wasn't a high enough priority to fix.  Way to treat the employees.

They know it's a big enough problem if they are offering loans so it problem gets corrected in future.   What kind of lame payroll system can account for filing status and withholdings?

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Buckeye wrote:
It sounds like a technical problem that someone thought wasn't a high enough priority to fix.  Way to treat the employees.

They know it's a big enough problem if they are offering loans so it problem gets corrected in future.   What kind of lame payroll system can account for filing status and withholdings?

Hard to believe the story when the WF Bank brokers who are paid the same way dont have the same software "glitch".

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fritz wrote:Buckeye wrote:
It sounds like a technical problem that someone thought wasn't a high enough priority to fix.  Way to treat the employees.

They know it's a big enough problem if they are offering loans so it problem gets corrected in future.   What kind of lame payroll system can account for filing status and withholdings?

Hard to believe the story when the WF Bank brokers who are paid the same way dont have the same software "glitch".

It's my understanding they do have the same problem, but in a smaller way.  Their salary/draw makes up much more of their earnings, and is taxed normally.  It's set much higher than the $1,820 a month received in PCG.

Tropic Lightning69's picture
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There is a "business planning" tool that the manager mentioned on infomax.  One of the guys in the office pulls up the program, and up pops all the information about production of the individual brokers in the LaCrosse, WI. branch. We are not in Wisconsin! Who runs this company, the Three Stooges, Abbot and Costello, Kramer from Seinfeld? WFA is sloppy, be it payroll, envision, or now information about another branch! This outfit likes to think of itself as Major League, but they have minor league management!   

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It is the fools from Wachovia running WFA.  The payroll is a separte issue. All the other  fukups are from those that put together Wachovia Sec.   They were in the business of buying everyone and clearly not too focused on financial advisors and clients.

Greenbacks's picture
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It reminds me of an old saying, Do two wrongs make a right?
Do two F#(ups make a good firm?

deekay's picture
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Greenbacks wrote:
It reminds me of an old saying, Do two wrongs make a right?
Do two F#(ups make a good firm?
 
If Greenbacks makes another snide comment about any firm other than an indie, does anybody give a flying f**k?

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WFA could care less about all of us. I don't care about guys bashing everything except indie, but I wish that's what I would have done instead of taking this F***ed check. They have us by the balls and we are all getting ass f***ed and just taking it. I think I will take my chances in court before the year is out. f*** this company. I think if we just sit here.......those that aren't fired or starved out ( with good production ) will be working in banks for a salary + bonus. That salary will probably start at 50k. Theu are practically screaming it in our faces

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A few months ago, I had a conversation with a senior exec from WF, who had previously been on the bank side of Wachovia (and before that at GE).  In a weak moment this person admitted that she and many of her peers at WF hate the individual brokers- finding them to be whiny  etc.  She was particularly angry that many try to go around her when they don't get the answer they want.  She considers it to be disrepectful to her status in the bank.  Her feeling is that everyone needs to respect the organizational hierachy (I wish I were making this up....I'm not) and not be so "individual".  OK.   Flash foward to Xmass, saw this person again, and she had the gaul to complain about not receiving a bonus !   I promptly asked if the 4Front payments had been made ?  No reply.  I followed up by asking if she and her peers would have jobs if there wasn't any revenue coming back to the bank from the brokerage side.  No reply and she quickly changed the subject.  WFA is fighting an uphill battle. 

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BigKahuna wrote:WFA could care less about all of us. I don't care about guys bashing everything except indie, but I wish that's what I would have done instead of taking this F***ed check. They have us by the balls and we are all getting ass f***ed and just taking it. I think I will take my chances in court before the year is out. f*** this company. I think if we just sit here.......those that aren't fired or starved out ( with good production ) will be working in banks for a salary + bonus. That salary will probably start at 50k. Theu are practically screaming it in our faces

 
You are wrong on one thing, I think you are setting the salary a little too high.

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" She considers it to be disrepectful to her status in the bank."That's why you should not have women executives.

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exUBS wrote: A few months ago, I had a conversation with a senior exec from WF, who had previously been on the bank side of Wachovia (and before that at GE).  In a weak moment this person admitted that she and many of her peers at WF hate the individual brokers- finding them to be whiny  etc.  She was particularly angry that many try to go around her when they don't get the answer they want.  She considers it to be disrepectful to her status in the bank.  Her feeling is that everyone needs to respect the organizational hierachy (I wish I were making this up....I'm not) and not be so "individual".  OK.   Flash foward to Xmass, saw this person again, and she had the gaul to complain about not receiving a bonus !   I promptly asked if the 4Front payments had been made ?  No reply.  I followed up by asking if she and her peers would have jobs if there wasn't any revenue coming back to the bank from the brokerage side.  No reply and she quickly changed the subject.  WFA is fighting an uphill battle. 

WFC are bankers. Period.   

conservative.

WS was added baggage they did not want to get WB's east coast deposits.

I say they sell em after tarp paid and economy stable.

howboutshoeshine's picture
Joined: 2010-01-29

WFA could care less about all of us. I don't care about guys bashing everything except indie, but I wish that's what I would have done instead of taking this F***ed check. They have us by the balls and we are all getting ass f***ed and just taking it. I think I will take my chances in court before the year is out. f*** this company. I think if we just sit here.......those that aren't fired or starved out ( with good production ) will be working in banks for a salary + bonus. That salary will probably start at 50k. Theu are practically screaming it in our faces

Well said Kahuna.

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BigKahuna wrote:WFA could care less about all of us. I don't care about guys bashing everything except indie, but I wish that's what I would have done instead of taking this F***ed check. They have us by the balls and we are all getting ass f***ed and just taking it. I think I will take my chances in court before the year is out. f*** this company. I think if we just sit here.......those that aren't fired or starved out ( with good production ) will be working in banks for a salary + bonus. That salary will probably start at 50k. Theu are practically screaming it in our faces
 
What's up sh*thead? I thought you were finet? I knew you were full of sh*t from the time I saw your first post.
 
Man up and quit being such a pussssy on a public BBS.

conage's picture
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Legacy AGE who left here. 
I think there is some syndrome where people who are being abused start to think (1) they deserve it, (2) it wouldn't be better anywhere else and (3) they are lucky to just have a roof over their heads.
 
The frog is very close to being boiled...

Tropic Lightning69's picture
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It is my understanding that in Oct, 2007 there were approximately 7300 AGE brokers. And, I'm told by a former branch manager that the current number is under 4000. If true, that is approximately 45% attrition.  

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Tropic Lightning69 wrote:It is my understanding that in Oct, 2007 there were approximately 7300 AGE brokers. And, I'm told by a former branch manager that the current number is under 4000. If true, that is approximately 45% attrition.  

 
 
I assume that 4000 is BS, since the 7300 number is BS.  AG had 6,618 brokers at the time of the merger announcement.  Ask that former branch manager what tool he is using to track his fantasy numbers. 

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AGEMAN wrote:QB wrote:Tropic Lightning69 wrote:It is my understanding that in Oct, 2007 there were approximately 7300 AGE brokers. And, I'm told by a former branch manager that the current number is under 4000. If true, that is approximately 45% attrition.  

 
 
I assume that 4000 is BS, since the 7300 number is BS.  AG had 6,618 brokers at the time of the merger announcement.  Ask that former branch manager what tool he is using to track his fantasy numbers. 
I do remember at some point before the merget that the number was a bit over 7000, but just barely over.
Still, 6618 to under 4000 is far more than 'regretable attrition'.

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The 7000 AGE fa's was about a year plus before the merger.
They had cleaned out some bottom feeders and also lost a few good teams
shortly before the announcement. At merger time the 6600-6700 was correct. As of August 09 the AGE advisors remaining were slightly above 4200 and dropping. Dont know that number now but under 4000 6 mos later is probable. Big difference is in the first yr mostly bustouts were leaving. Last year plus has seen alot of top tier walking out.

nestegg's picture
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We have 800 former AGE reps at SF...so if you add that to the # that went to wirehouses, RJ and Indy, it could easlity be close to 4k!

fritz's picture
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Looked at the Top 10000 broker production report for January.  Looked like it stopped at 9996.  So that tells you a lot, thousands have walked.

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tdude wrote:The 7000 AGE fa's was about a year plus before the merger. They had cleaned out some bottom feeders and also lost a few good teams shortly before the announcement. At merger time the 6600-6700 was correct. As of August 09 the AGE advisors remaining were slightly above 4200 and dropping. Dont know that number now but under 4000 6 mos later is probable. Big difference is in the first yr mostly bustouts were leaving. Last year plus has seen alot of top tier walking out.

 

That would calculate into a 40% "regrettable attrition"
Which is slightly more than the 1% "regrettable attrition" that was initially projected by Bagby's boys.

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fritz wrote:Looked at the Top 10000 broker production report for January.  Looked like it stopped at 9996.  So that tells you a lot, thousands have walked.

 
When this merger was announced didn't the combined broker force come close to 16,000?

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Broker Fee wrote:

 

That would calculate into a 40% "regrettable attrition"
Which is slightly more than the 1% "regrettable attrition" that was initially projected by Bagby's boys.

my question is, how have they kept so many?  all I heard about from the vets when I was at AGE was how great it was when Ben ran the company, and how Bagby was a pale shadow. 
Even a pale shadow was different than a financial supermarket with the "size and scope" of 200,000 plus bank employees.  If most of the AG brokers I knew had been presented with their present situation in a crystal ball 5 years ago, I have to believe they would have said "No way I would still be there.  I'd be gone."  Somewhere close to 4000 stayed. 
 I guess it shows how a severe bear market changes things.

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Conage. Not sure the hemorage is done. May be at 3000 by year end?

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Broker Fee wrote:tdude wrote:The 7000 AGE fa's was about a year plus before the merger. They had cleaned out some bottom feeders and also lost a few good teams shortly before the announcement. At merger time the 6600-6700 was correct. As of August 09 the AGE advisors remaining were slightly above 4200 and dropping. Dont know that number now but under 4000 6 mos later is probable. Big difference is in the first yr mostly bustouts were leaving. Last year plus has seen alot of top tier walking out.

 

That would calculate into a 40% "regrettable attrition"
Which is slightly more than the 1% "regrettable attrition" that was initially projected by Bagby's boys.
WS/AGE goal was originally 3% regrettable attrition.  2009 WFA signed 1300 FA's but lost slightly over 2300. Of course the Company line is that "the incoming FA's are twice as productive of those that left".

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Yes We have to think about this very seriously.. It will be dangerous in next few years..
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