The best BRAND to choose? So many changes

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Jul 15, 2007 8:05 pm

Okay, Im in the process of interviewing between the top 3 firms most talked about here: Merril, Morgan, and Smith. 


They all seem like great firms to choose from and 2 out of the three have told me they are getting ready to send me an offer letter.  They've all given me their pitch to why they are different from one another, but it seems after I finished my own research on all of them I learned that they have either finished going through large transitions or are currently involved in a massive overhaul of the company.


Particularly, Morgan Stanley like most of you know have changed their program and I am cognizant of their past reputation for having itchy fingers and pulling the plug on new advisors careers.  They have a new Ceo formerly with ML and he's molding the company in many ways.  Im not sure if this is better or worse than how the company was before.  Next, Merril seems pretty solid, but their expectations in the first 2 years are so high the likeliness of getting axed for good not great numbers is realistic.  Lastly, at Smith they've changed their compensation program in the last few years and are going through a supposed "final" change now.  Additionaly, they apparently aren't under the Citigroup umbrella, but just under Citi and people on here say that they anticipate another takeover.


So based on what I have said and things you may personally know about any of the companys', what would be good choice for an advisor starting out from scratch? I know this question is contigent on a lot of variables like my background, personality, and what type of business I will be doing, but what is the best brand?

Jul 15, 2007 8:35 pm

Merrill is probably the most recognizable, with SB running 2nd.  They've also got the toughest trainee program out of the three. But if you hit your goals, you're well on your way to success. 


Ultimately though, it comes down to YOU.  It's nice to have a brand behind you, but you'll get clients because they believe in YOUR abilities. 


That said, it's important to get a feel for branch culture.  What's the overall feel?  What kind of support can you expect from your managers?  Are there senior advisors that are willing to mentor you? 


Good luck in your decision. 

Jul 15, 2007 9:34 pm

I couldn't agree more.


I will say that the 'feel' and branch manager play a huge role.

Jul 15, 2007 9:35 pm
new_dude:

Okay, Im in the process of interviewing between the top 3 firms most talked about here: Merril, Morgan, and Smith.



Please don't pick Merrill Lynch until you can spell the company's name.

Sorry to pick on you, but it you spelled it wrong every time in your post.  Seriously, do you want to work for a place if you can't even spell their name?

Flaming aside, I think that that you are looking are three very fine companies.  I'm of course partial to Merrill (or Merril as you like to call us) but I do feel that you need to look at the offices that you are interviewing with rather than just looking at the companies. 

I also strongly suggest that you ask the branch manger to send you the contact information of two people at the office before you make you decision.  Ideally one should currently be in the training program and the other should be a recent graduate from the training program.  They will be able to give you a better perspective about the company and the branch office than just about everyone.  If you do this then I am sure you will learn something valuable as well as impress the branch manager.

Good luck and you are fortunate to have to make such a difficult decision.

Best regards,
--WM

Jul 16, 2007 10:34 am
deekay:

Merrill is probably the most recognizable, with SB running 2nd.  They've also got the toughest trainee program out of the three. But if you hit your goals, you're well on your way to success. 


Ultimately though, it comes down to YOU.  It's nice to have a brand behind you, but you'll get clients because they believe in YOUR abilities. 


That said, it's important to get a feel for branch culture.  What's the overall feel?  What kind of support can you expect from your managers?  Are there senior advisors that are willing to mentor you? 


Good luck in your decision. 



I'm a long time lurker and have read recently that ML's training program is no longer "in person" @ Princeton but that they are moving to make it 100% virtual and at the advisor's discretion...is this true?

I always hear how ML has the best training, my mentor started out there. But I can't see it being as effective as SB and MS's training if its going to be virtual; there can't be a comparison.

I would love if someone could confirm that or not.

Jul 16, 2007 11:20 am

ML's training is virtual in that you do alot of online training at first. After one year, if you hit your numbers and are exceling, they will send you to Princeton for a couple weeks for advanced courses. This is a change from the past when they used to send everyone new to on-site training...


SB sends all new FA's to Jersey now for 3 weeks and when they get back they are in production.


MS has regional training I believe, instead of on-site at their place in NY. Not positive on that though...

Jul 16, 2007 12:22 pm
blarmston:

ML's training is virtual in that you do alot of online training at first. After one year, if you hit your numbers and are exceling, they will send you to Princeton for a couple weeks for advanced courses. This is a change from the past when they used to send everyone new to on-site training...



ML must have gone back to the future on this one, because when I trained there, when they first began the whole bonus check for hitting bogey's training program in the early 1990s it was virtual and only people hitting their bogies went to Princeston for any training.

Jul 16, 2007 12:40 pm

NONE of those because YOU don't own your book, the company does.


Only Wachovia and RJ will write on paper that you own your book.

Jul 16, 2007 7:03 pm
vbrainy:

NONE of those because YOU don't own your book, the company does.


Only Wachovia and RJ will write on paper that you own your book.



So what?


When something like 80% of those who start down the road never make it to the goal line what difference does owning your book make?


It is not happenstance that the country's biggest hitters are with the wirehouses, and you can be assured that they do not worry about not owning their book.


Being independent is the last gasp for those who are on their way out the door.  A lot of them failed at their wirehouse opportunity and went independent because they can scrape by on the 80% plus payouts.


If you have an opportunity to get on with a premier wirehouse, take it.  If you fail there try the independent route before completely giving up--but if you're successful at a major wirehouse you will have a wonderful career, great income and an opportunity to sell your book just like anybody else does.


And your book will be bigger.  The reality is that guys and gals who are in the upper third of production at the wires are netting more than the top guys and gals at places like LPL or RJFS.


They're called "big hitters" and as  big hitters they can get anything they want from places like Merrill or Smith Barney.  Talk to a guy like Jimmy Hansberger at Smith Barney and you'll hear, "I've figured it out.  By the time you factor in all the costs, rent, ticket charges, salaries for support staff, utilities, data processing, retirement plans, group insurance and so forth it just doesn't make sense for me to leave."


On the other hand, a guy or gal doing, say, $300,000 will find that they can net more as an Indy--but they're going to have a crummy office, a part-time assistant, one of those phone systems that is answered by a machine pretending to be a voice mail system and on and on.


They'll say things like, "I have an office that is nice enough" which is a compromise.  I have an assistant who comes in two hours a day and that's enough, which is a compromise.  Everything is a compromise.


It's like a guy with a law degree sitting in a dingy office writing letters to deadbeats telling himself that he's just as happy there as he would be if he were a litigation partner at Crane, Poole and Schmidt.


They're pretending to be professionals, and there is nothing better than an extended bull market to help the pretenders keep the charade alive.

Jul 16, 2007 8:41 pm

Hi Putsy.

Jul 16, 2007 11:14 pm
new_dude:

Particularly, Morgan Stanley like most of you know have changed their program and I am cognizant of their past reputation for having itchy fingers and pulling the plug on new advisors careers.  They have a new Ceo formerly with ML and he's molding the company in many ways.  Im not sure if this is better or worse than how the company was before.  



Not to pile on, but John Mack (MS CEO) did not come from Merrill.  John Mack was formally CEO of Morgan Stanley (until '01), Credit Suisse (from '02 - '04), and currently CEO of MS.  Again, if you are interested in this industry, spelling and inaccurate info about the leaders won't get you too far. 


Don't worry about the changes at MS.  They are essentially done.  The new training program is in place and the layoffs were a result of James Gorman (formerly of Merrill) moving over to run Global Wealth Management (which you are interviewing with) cutting bottom producers.  New CEO Mack and COO GWM Gorman have vastly improved the firm.


In the end, I have to agree 100% that the branch is the most important issue.  I am partial to MS, and a lot of that has to do with our branch's managers and support staff.  Definitely take WM's advice and get contact info for a few people from the firms.  Ask the new FAs how they like the training program, if they feel it will benefit them (or if it has), etc.  I wasn't all that excited about my training, but the new program MS is implementing seems to be a pretty big hit with the new FAs.  More real life situations, unlike mine. 


Hope the information helps, and good luck.

Jul 16, 2007 11:33 pm
Jul 18, 2007 1:39 am

A couple practical things:



MS has a one week training session in Dallas/FW TX toward the end of the branch network training. It used to be held at the WTC in Manhattan.



I interviewed with all three of the firms you mentioned. Morgan and Merrill gave offers while the Smith Barney manager stated I was too young. Here's my take on all three.



Merrill has the best training program because of the two-year base, branding, quality of training, and bonuses along the way.



Smith Barney is a close second but with larger quotas and lower payouts on initial bonuses. Also two-year base.



Morgan is NOT the place to begin your career at all, even now. I know three people recently fired, as in last month. Having said this, it does seem by far the best place to be if you're already a producer.



In the end I didn't take either offer. Morgan just has too much of a negative rep for new hires and I couldn't see working with the barticular branch manager at ML although I'd go to a different branch in a second for the POA which seems great, online classes aside. The specific branch and branch manager should factor heavily.

Jul 31, 2007 10:18 pm

With regard to ML being "virtual," that might be a bit of a misconception.  There is Merrill Lynch University which is an online tool where you can use tools to supplement your STC training materials for licensing purposes, and basically fulfill any firm training mandates (both for the POA program and for the general population). 


In all honesty, I can't remember the last time I logged into MLU for learning sales practices, product knowledge, etc. and I'm in the 3rd month of production. 


The training program is well regarded because of your colleagues, and the environment surrounding you, for all intents and purposes.  Having a senior FA to mentor you to give you a head-start into production (both in advice and in building your first 1.5 mm in AUM).


It's often stated as a difficult program, but I personally feel that the high expectations help to make you a better advisor post-POA.