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US securities brokers took $98 bln in assets on the move in 2014

[NEW YORK] The wealth management recruitment wars continued in 2014, as 711 top US securities brokers managing roughly US$98 billion in client assets decamped to rival firms or started their own businesses, Reuters records showed.

More than half left jobs at one of the big four brokerages often called wire houses - Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo Advisors, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch, and UBS Wealth Advisors. Moves from those four firms alone were made by 391 advisers managing US$61 billion.

Reuters does not have comparable data from 2013, but industry experts say the departures reflect a trend of more top teams leaving than in prior years.

"The most movement is at the top of the food chain, a trend that started in 2014 and will continue in 2015," said Mindy Diamond, president of the brokerage recruiting firm Diamond Consultants, referring to teams with large amounts of assets. To be sure, many of these moves involved brokers leaving one large company for another.

Moves in this industry matter because advisers usually take client assets with them, and because the big firms pay incentives to win brokers who will bring large amounts of assets with them. When the books closed on 2014, UBS and Wells picked up more than they lost, while the other firms lost more than they gained.

Reuters database tracks publicly announced hires of brokers who manage more than US$100 million in assets. Net adviser figures are as of Sept 30, 2014, as firms have not yet filed fourth quarter reports.

UBS Wealth Advisors, the smallest of the wire houses with around 7,100 advisers, had the highest percentage activity, with a loss of 85 advisers managing US$17.6 billion, and a more-than-compensating pick up of 113 new advisers managing US$21 billion in assets, the firm said.

Wells Fargo lost 93 advisers who managed US$8 billion in assets, a loss more than covered by the 74 advisers managing US$9.6 billion Wells hired, according to Reuters records.

Wells Fargo said it hired more advisers and more assets than it lost in 2014, a discrepancy with Reuters records because not all hires are publicly announced.

Merrill Lynch lost 101 advisers managing more than US$21 billion in client assets, according to Reuters records. The firm said it hired nearly 70 advisers managing almost US$12 billion in assets.

Merrill Lynch, which has 14,000 advisers, has turned attention to hiring from its training program, and hired 1,700 trainees in 2014.

Morgan Stanley, the world's largest brokerage, lost 111 advisers managing US$14.6 billion in assets, Reuters found, a number partially offset by 43 new advisers managing US$11.3 billion in assets.

Morgan Stanley declined to comment beyond saying Reuters'records were incomplete.

Independent broker-dealer Raymond James Financial, which lets advisers chose to be employees or independent affiliates, reported its best recruiting year since 2009 at the fiscal year's end, Sept 30.

The firm has 6,265 advisers overall, a net increase of 68 advisers, according to the firm's annual report.