Here are all of the comments RR heard from First Union brokers.
"They are highest level in terms of investment consulting research/fee-based programs. Only one or two firm comparable in whole country."
"Doesn’t support new brokers very well."
"Doesn’t push proprietary products. Good focus, direction and vision of how to get there. Doesn’t do much in syndicate offering. Have some issues with head office, getting better system than with Everen, making it a priority, good selection of fee-based business, lots of flexibility."
[Technology] "Systems are great--can anything you want. Back office problems, delays, changes--the result of consolidation will get cleared up."
"The branch manager gives us a lot of freedom ... was at Merrill, First Union gives much more freedom."
"Freedom is incredible--even brings in stock we don’t have any knowledge about. Information is here."
"Not a better firm in country for clients’ well-being. Leadership integrity filters down to brokers. Very high characteristics. A no-nonsense firm. Disagree with direction they’re headed on some issues, but that’s my prerogative."
"We need work on training sales assistants ... currently no training at all. Company ought to work on differentiating bank side with brokerage."
"Goes out of way to train newbies. Sends them all over the place training and teaching, and Web page. Not good with ongoing training of people who have been here a while. Still deals like used car dealers. Need a dose of what we’re doing, here’s how we’re gonna do it."
(Payout) "They’re relatively generous, but then again, my deal is different because I’ve been there a long time and I’m a pretty strong producer."
(Research) "It’s not good across the board. It’s pretty weak, and I don’t rely on them at all."
(Fixed-income) "It could be more competitive from my point of view."
(Strategic focus) "It keeps changing, especially now that we’ve merged. They’re trying to focus on the brokerage business, but the jury is still out as to how effective it’s going to be for the brokers or for the clients."
(Image) "Because of the changes and the merger, it’s going to be difficult. From a geographic location, First Union doesn’t have a footprint at all on the West Coast as it does in the Southeast states. They are a bank and they just got into the brokerage business, first with Wheat First then with Everen, so we’ll have to see what kind of visibility they will have from a brokerage business point of view."
(Sales ideas) "We get ideas, but the quality is poor."
(Training) "It’s just about average."
(Operations) "I gave it an eight, but the reality is that within our office it’s a nine, within the firm it’s a seven."
(Overall) "They run a good clean operation, and they let me run my own business completely. They need to upgrade the quality of our research department."
(Payout) "Knowing what the norm is, I’d say ours is slightly better than average."
(Freedom) "There is a lot of pressure, but it’s not obvious. Maybe after the dust settles it will be different. Right now we feel the change, and there’s some concerns and some pressure based on those concerns."
(Sales quotas) "Same thing. With the changes, we’re all feeling the pressure to stay on top of our numbers."
(Research) "It’s changed, we’re not what we used to be (when we were Everen). They are striving to give us good research and I imagine in time it will improve. Right now I’d have to say it’s middle of the road as far as quality."
(Branch manager) "Zero. I don’t want to go into it, but let’s just say he exhibits absolutely no leadership whatsoever."
(Strategic focus) "We’re still in a state of flux. We’re going high-tech, getting computerized, there’s a lot still to learn."
(Image) "A lot of people don’t know us. There has been absolutely no advertising. We are almost nonexistent in some areas as far as a brokerage firm is concerned."
(Sales support/ideas) "We’re hoping that both will eventually get better."
(Operations) "It’s weak, confused and inefficient. We’re hoping that too will change and improve as time goes on."
(Training) "Nothing much right now."
(Quote/info) "When it works it’s great, but like any other computer, when it’s down it’s frustrating and terrible."
(Overall) "We have a lot of money behind us so we are a pretty solid force in the industry, but everything is changing and I don’t know if that’s good or bad. As a small firm we used to be able to use our own ideas, and we could do our own thing and be left more or less alone to run our business. Now we’re big. There are more compliance issues, more concerns over the legalities of the industry, everyone is looking over their shoulder."
(Research) "It’s not bad, we’ve kept our outside sources and that doesn’t seem to be affected by the merger."
(Strategic focus) "The bank seems to be in for the whole financial picture, trying to focus on the brokerage division and do what’s right for the clients."
(Image) "We don’t have that big a presence in this area. They need to work on that."
(Training) "I don’t get a sense of having much training of any kind available to us. Maybe for the newer brokers, but not once you’ve been around for a few years."
(Operations) "Depends on the day. Overall it’s pretty good."
(Account statements) "Depends on which clients you ask. We’ve changed them lately, but they’re still not easy to read."
(Overall) "I like having the freedom to do the kind of business I want to do. There is no pressure to do what we don’t believe is in the best interests of the client. And so far I haven’t seen anything with this merger that makes me nervous or concerned about the future. Of course, because of the merger, there has been a lot of chaos and confusion in the back office as to who’s doing what, or who is in charge of specific things. I imagine that will improve."
(Strategic focus) "The focus here is on fee-based business and that’s what I do."
(Image) "The banking side is not helping the brokerage side of our business as far as the name is concerned. If anything I think the banking name has brought down our image as a brokerage firm."
(Operations) "Not good. We can’t get the answers we need."
(Overall) "What works is the products we offer, they’re very good. What doesn’t work is the operational side. I’m hoping that will improve once the dust settles."
(Benefits) "Our benefits package is very good."
(Research) "I think it’s good both inside and outside with other sources."
(Image) "The biggest thing we have to work on is our awareness. Our image is quite high for those who know us, but for those who do not, it’s not a household name. The quality of our advertising has been poor."
(Overall) Our technology is superior to any that I’ve seen in the industry. Even though we are owned by a bank, the freedom to operate autonomously from the bank is terrific. We are going to have to work on improving our advertising campaign especially if we hope to become one of the top players in the industry."
(Payout) "We’re in the middle of the road."
(Benefits) "It’s poor. We have a reduced compensation as far as our retirement plan. It’s a matter of cost, and management is not willing to spend the money to give us the benefits that we’d like."
(Overall) "I got into this business when we were a small regional brokerage operation that was progressive in nature. Now we have 85,000 employees and we’re affiliated with a bank. It’s yet to be proven to us that they care about the brokers and or the clients. No one has walked in yet to tell us what to sell or what to do, but it’s just a feeling that things are changing."
(Payout) "It’s decent. I’ve seen a lot worse."
(Benefits) "Our medical coverage is weak, there’s a lot of out of pocket dollars that we pay. I don’t think it’s because of the merger. I think that’s just the way it is here."
(Fixed-income) "Just above average. We don’t get the best issues or best prices."
(Image) "We need to work on that. First Union’s not known in a lot of places."
(Sales support) "First Union expects us to do our own marketing, they don’t give us a lot of overall support."
(Account statements) "It’s getting worse. There is a lot of information, it’s just that you have to dig it out and clients find it difficult."
(Overall) "I like the freedom this firm gives me to do our business. I don’t have quotas and I can sell what’s best suited for my clients. First Union brings a lot of capital resources that Everen didn’t have. The down side is that it’s very big and you lose the personal contact when you get too big."
(Hiring/recruiting) "They’re hiring a lot of people. I’m not sure that’s really in our best interests."
(Sales ideas) "About average, but I really don’t use much of their ideas and pretty much generate my own."
(Overall) "Basically the firm allows us to do our own thing and run our own business. Technology here is very good. I’m concerned that they’re hiring too many people. As to the merger, it’s probably a little too soon to tell whether that’s a plus or a minus."
(Benefits) "Benefits were better before the merger. Now we’re limited with what we can and cannot do with our 401ks. They’re promising us a lot of things as far as benefits but so far I haven’t seen anything."
(Sales quotas) "Not at my level."
(Strategic focus) "We’re going through so many changes now I really can’t give a fair rating other than average. We have to wait and see some of the changes before we can ultimately evaluate the firm’s focus."
(Image) "I spend more time trying to explain to clients who and what we are now that we’re affiliated with a bank."
(Sales support) "It was better before the merger. Until they get everything in place it’s going to continue to be tough getting support from the back office."
(Training) "Haven’t seen much in the way of training other than for the new guys."
(Operations) "Support is just not there. We have problems reaching the right people for the right answers."
(Overall) "There’s a full array of very good products offered, we’re not locked into anything and we have no pressure. We need more support and training. There’s always room for improvement. Maybe once the dust settles we’ll see some progress. Right now, we’re getting a lot of lip service, nothing more."
(Payout) "Very low. We’re working now with a banker’s mentality."
(Benefits) "We still have too high of a co-payment. Either a firm takes care of its employees or it doesn’t. We should have better benefits than what we have."
(Sales quotas) "We have them but if the market’s good than it’s not so bad, if not, then you really feel the pressure from the firm."
(Research) "It’s about average. I pretty much do my own research." (Fixed-income) "A little low at times."
(Image) "Depends on where you live. In some regions our image is great, in others, they don’t even know who we are."
(Training) "There’s a constant bombardment of training offered, almost all covering compliance issues."
(Operations) "On any given day it is either great and I’d give it a 10, or it is awful and I’d give it a five." [He gave it an eight.]
(Overall) Technology is a major strength here. What needs to be addressed is support. Just the sheer numbers of brokers the back office has to deal with makes it a problem. We, the brokers, then have to spend more time doing what they should be doing. It’s support-type work, and it creates more work for us and less time to do what we’re supposed to be doing."
"There are a lot of bumps right now. But it’ll get better. They’re changing the back office and the pay system is screwy. We get a draw then a check six weeks after the month ends. There are some warts, but they’re all fixable."
"It’s still better here than Merrill. There’s much more freedom. The lack of quotas is better, too. Merrill is big in financial planning deal, which is the right direction, but to tell someone you have to do so many or you pay is cut is crazy."
"Everyone is recruiting me--Merrill, Morgan Stanley, PaineWebber. You name it. Yet I’m still here, which says a lot. [Other firms] are throwing the kitchen sink at you: 100% upfront of trailing gross. But it’s not tempting to me. If someone pays you $1 million, you lose 25% of your gross moving, then you have to pay taxes each month, so you have to make twice as much gross just to make the same amount, less the payouts increase. And you really have to work harder. With the same effort here, I can double my gross."
"I like the freedom, the payout, the ethics, and there’s great research available. So I’m pretty happy here."
[SAs] "It’s impossible to get the phone answered around here. It’s hard enough to get through your work. Now you gotta answer the phone, too. Since the switch, it’s gotten worse. I’m young, and I’m trying to stay alive in this business. I sometimes wonder, ‘Will I be around next month?’ I intend to be around because I’m bringing in assets, but the firm needs to give me more sales support based on the assets I’m bringing in versus the gross I’m doing. That bothers me a lot."
"We don’t have our shit together yet at all. The transition has been less than stellar. Departments are overwhelmed. It’s gone from little Wheat First to what it is today. We had people in Chicago who could handle it, but they’re gone now [in Richmond, Va.]. So all those functions have been dumped on people in Richmond. I put in for an insurance license in Washington on April 6. I still don’t have it because they’re so overwhelmed. They’re so swamped that they’re hiring warm bodies who don’t even know the business. I got a check for $900 that should have been $8,000. So where’s the other money? They don’t know. It all takes away from the job I have to do. The sales support is not there. You’re on your own. [Why stay?] I’m in a partnership and my partner is close to retiring. So I won’t rock the boat. But it does impact my life. If I wasn’t in this partnership, I’d be gone."
"I’ve been in this business 15 years, and I was at Smith Barney when it went through all the mergers, and I’ve been very impressed with the merger we’ve gone through here, as well as the way they roll out programs, and all the consolidating in the back office. They bring programs out and it works. [Example] Research advice. The way the mechanics work. The computer power of the company, the technology is very impressive."
"They pay big bucks to brokers coming into the firm, but they don’t support the ones who are already on board. I know they wouldn’t pay to keep me from leaving. There’s too much attention to the brokers coming in."
"There’s tremendous support at the regional and national levels. They’re very cooperative. We hope the firm maintains the same regional mentality that Wheat First had. We’re worried that it won’t. And we were Everen before we were First Union, so we’re not well known in terms of name recognition. We’re the sixth largest regional firm, but we’re not well known."
"We get training from wholesalers but not from the firm. For a new RR, the training is excellent, but when it comes to ongoing training, they’re not very good."
"Research is good, but the account statements are poor."
"I’m not sure what the banking side is doing, but the firm side is taking care of the technology, we need to do our job. It’s never been out of date. And we’ve never been forced to sell any products."
"Of the top 10 brokerage firms, this firm is as different as night and day from the major wirehouses. It’s a very bottom-up-oriented, broker-driven place that will challenge and support that challenge with sales assistance, meaningful help from regionals and private consultants for one-on-one meetings. Senior management is young but with a high level of integrity, and they are asking lots of questions from brokers to make sure the future direction of the firm is right. This bottom-up process is stronger than any other firm on the Street. Their ambition is to grow to No. 3, and it will look different from any other firm its size. At this level, I’m very pleased. If we could just get our bank side together. It’s a drag on the stock price."
"It’s the best. There’s total freedom. For somebody who’s an entrepreneur, this firm epitomizes it."
"It’s a little bit too new to tell. I think they’re a little bit staid, a little behind the curve in things like online trading. It’s a cover-your-ass company."
(Sales ideas) "I’ll give it a 6, but it’s getting better."
(Overall) "Basically, we’re going through a lot of changes--looking for improvement."
(Benefits) "At this point, I’ll give it a 9. It’s gotten better."
(Fixed-income) "It’s flexible. I can beat them up if I want something."
(Strategic focus) "I think it’s still evolving. Now we shouldn’t be buying up everybody in sight. They’re combining operations staff. I would like to see more information--at least elucidation. It’s still evolving. It’s a freeform organization; we don’t have a rigid, centralized structure."
(Image) "It’s like, who? They haven’t done a great job nationally. They have to do a little better job of getting the word out. First Union Bank’s problems don’t help."
(Sales ideas) "They do a pretty good job with equity marketing."
(Operations) "We’re in the process of getting a new system. We’re going from centralized to decentralized. It’s too early to tell. The intent is for branches to have more input. Before, we had nobody to talk to about ACATs problems. I’ll give it a 9 for intent--we don’t know about execution yet."
(Operations) "We’re going through a conversion ... a back office conversion. We’ll see in a couple of weeks."
"I think the firm is nicely positioned although it’s newer in Western and Midwestern regions, and it will take time before we’re well known. We have no real pressure to meet certain goals. They stress doing what’s best for the client. For me the ethical aspect is very important. I have support in what I do."
[The firm’s name changes] "We’ve had four different names, but I’m at the same desk."
"Training here is packaged as product information. You learn how to sell products to clients but not how to get a new client."
"Firm is not well known here [Minnesota]. So far, I think First Union’s every bit as good as PaineWebber and Everen. But I haven’t seen First Union’s payout scale yet."
"Not a firm that is well known on West Coast. Our firm is really great because the clients are still ours; the firm doesn’t believe the clients are theirs; probably one of the last firms out there with that philosophy, that’s why I’m here. Payout is the highest on the Street. I’m a little nervous about the conversion. Everen was great. But the top people are reiterating that they’re here to support us, and that’s why I stay here."
"Our firm is coming together now. From a technological standpoint, I’d say we’re great, the tools we have are excellent, although the reliability issue frustrates us. Our leadership is excellent, they have a big job ahead of them pulling together all the pieces of this company [like Everen]."
"I think when we were Wheat we were OK because people have a good image of Wheat, but their image of First Union bank is terrible."
"Payout on fee business is the best on the Street. They put their money where their mouth is. Best technology on the Street. Product pool is the best I’ve seen. They have some catching up to do with back office support, which is tough because of the talent pool in Richmond Va."