By Elizabeth Dilts
NEW YORK, July 15 (Reuters) - Less than a month after a top Merrill Lynch executive said the Bank of America securities brokerage would begin recruiting again, the firm has hired a top financial adviser away from rival Morgan Stanley .
Robert Labriola joined Merrill Lynch's Rockefeller Center New York office on July 11 from Morgan Stanley's office in Purchase, New York, where he managed $200 million in assets.
Merrill Lynch made the announcement on Tuesday. Labriola was not immediately available for comment. A spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley confirmed Labriola left the firm but declined to say anything more.
Labriola previously worked for Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith in the late 1990s, before leaving in 2000 to work for Citigroup and then Morgan Stanley.
Labriola's hiring comes after John Thiel, head of U.S. Wealth Management for Merrill Lynch, told Reuters the firm planned to restart hiring after years of steadily reducing its broker headcount.
"We want to grow," Thiel said at Reuters' Global Wealth Summit in mid-June, adding that the expansion will be "very selective" and "thoughtful."
Merrill Lynch, once the largest U.S. securities firm as measured by its sales force, ended the first quarter with 13,725 financial advisers, a decrease of almost 15 percent since it was bought by Bank of America Corp during the financial crisis in January 2009.
Morgan Stanley is the largest U.S. brokerage firm by sales force, with 16,426 advisers as of March 31. Wells Fargo & Co's Wells Fargo Advisors and UBS AG's UBS Wealth Management Americas round out the nation's four largest securities brokerages.
Top level advisers like Labriola, who manage more than $100 million in client assets or produce more than $1 million a year in revenue for their firms, are prize "gets" for these firms.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Dilts; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)