The much-anticipated revival plan for UBS Wealth Management Americas will cap off a series of recent organizational changes garnering support from an important constituency: advisors at the beleaguered brokerage, Registered Rep. has learned.
One piece of evidence: A short thread of recent postings on the online forum hosted by Registered Rep. is a booster shot of sorts for the imminent 100-day UBS revival, or so-called “renewal” plan promised by CEO Bob McCann. (The plan is to be unveiled to employees by the end of March or early April.)
McCann, the former Merrill Lynch veteran who took the reins at UBS last year, is “raising hell…blowing stuff up…I love the guy…hope he can pull it off…[The] guy dropping Daily Cutters on old school UBS crap,” colorfully noted one poster on RegisteredRep.com Advisor Forums, in part. “He is good ... a former broker,” said a second poster. “At [Merrill Lynch] many liked him,” another poster said. One post declared: “McCann is the man so far. Huge changes [are] happening. A bazillion times better.”
UBS’s brokerage unit has already taken some decisive steps. These resulted in a management shakeup, new organizational structures and a comp plan that rewards loyalty and growth. Compensation is typically based on trailing commissions at many brokerages, which makes the UBS plan an exception.
UBS advisors have welcomed the changes. “We have some experienced brokers who are ready to join UBS pending in the next couple of week,” said industry headhunter Danny Sarch. “UBS is a much easier story to sell in the last 60 days. Morale among UBS brokers has improved.”
Still, UBS is in a tough spot. Clients have continued to pull assets. In the fourth quarter, $11.2 billion dollars went out the door compared with $9.3 billion in the third quarter. Some 200 advisors departed (half jumped ship; the others were culled) in the fourth quarter, bringing advisor headcount down to 7,084. UBS is still struggling with brand damage caused by a global tax evasion scandal. The past sale of toxic products, most notably auction rate securities, has cast a long shadow.
“I would think the worst has to be behind UBS, because I don’t see how it could get any worse than this,” said Dean Erickson, founder of Bionic Capital, an RIA, in Los Angeles, who left UBS 18 months ago. Indeed, the UBS brokerage unit reported a pre-tax profit of $166 million in the fourth quarter, up 62 percent from the third quarter.
Meanwhile, some analysts have revived speculation that UBS will rebrand the troubled brokerage unit, spinning it off as PaineWebber, which UBS acquired for $10.8 billion in 2000. A person familiar with UBS said nothing is off the table.
Peter Cohan, a business consultant who is dismissive of today’s brokerage industry model, conceded that the idea of reviving an old and popular brand is probably a smart strategic move for UBS. “I would probably try resuscitating PaineWebber and keep it separate from UBS,” he said.