With only two weeks left before Merrill Lynch closes its deal to buy Advest Group—the deal is scheduled to close on Dec. 1—top reps at the Hartford, Conn.-based firm continue to run for the exits. This past weekend another $8 million in production decamped for other firms.

Despite retention packages of 45 percent to 50 percent of trailing 12-months production, $1 million-plus Advest producers would rather work someplace else than toil for Merrill. Only two weeks ago an entire office in Portland, Maine, followed their branch manager, Clifford Dow, out the door to start their own independent firm, and a raft of brokers left a Rockefeller Center office in New York City for Wachovia Securities.

“These guys are big producers, so the upfront money isn’t so much an issue—they can get it somewhere else for one, but for a lot of these guys the cultural change is the factor,” says Mindy Diamond, owner of Diamond Consultants in Chester, N.J., and a columnist for this magazine.

Corporate culture is described as the chief motive behind most of these moves. In this case, Raymond James & Associates picked up Brent Bruckner and Al Daft, a million-dollar producing team in Canton, Ohio, and the $2 million-plus team of Walter Lunsford and Tim Recker in Cincinnati. (Lunsford was also one of Registered Rep.’s Outstanding Broker Award winners this year.)

In other moves: Mark Bilski, a top producer in Valhalla, N.Y., joined Credit Suisse First Boston in New York City, and Paul Skydell and Harold Cohen, a $2 million team in Jericho, N.Y., joined UBS, according to sources familiar with the moves.

One of Merrill’s own top-producing brokers says that in the past couple weeks rumors about the increasing numbers of Advest defections have gotten louder. “This confirms a lot of the talk,” he says. “Management is really having to woo these guys hard. A lot of them aren’t thrilled to be coming here,” he says. “But if you’d asked me two weeks ago if I thought this would be happening, I would’ve said no.”

Danny Sarch, a recruiter with Leitner Sarch Consultants in White Plains, N.Y., says the timing of the moves isn’t surprising, since holdouts want to decide before Dec. 1 if jumping is wise. “Converting to a new firm is hassle enough, but converting twice—to Merrill and then later to another firm—would be very annoying for reps and their clients,” says Sarch.