UBS Wealth Management Americas (NYSE: UBS), rising from the ashes of its well-publicized disasters, had something to crow about this latest quarter (Q1 2011): The firm gathered $8.4 billion in net new client assets (figure includes interest and dividend income); pre-tax profit surged to $119 million compared to a loss of $33 million in the previous quarter. The number of financial advisors increased by 15 (net) to 6,811 as overall attrition, at 4.3 percent, stood at its lowest level since before the credit crisis erupted in 2008. It was that crisis that sensationally compounded recent financial trouble, including fallout from the sale of auction rate securities and the tax-evasion scandal brought against the Swiss-based bank by the IRS.
The Americas unit, citing positive market performance and net new asset inflows, reported AUM of $761 billion, the highest since the first quarter of 2008. In other highlights, the brokerage reported that attrition among its most productive advisors--FAs with revenues in excess of $1 million—was just 2.3 percent. An executive at UBS told Registered Rep. that the last time attrition was in the low single digits was before the crisis, adding that in the 12 months from second quarter of 2008 through second quarter of 2009, it was in the double digits. No surprise given the scandals hitting the headlines that spooked investors who pulled money and FAs began jumping ship along with their clients.
Meanwhile, invested assets, or AUM per FA, were $112 million in the latest quarter, among the highest among wirehouses reported by the industry, while average revenue per FA was $855,000—also another industry high. Net new money generated by FAs at UBS Wealth Management more than 12 months was “positive” for the fifth consecutive quarter. Revenues jumped to $1,448 million, an increase of 13 percent from the same year-ago quarter.
UBS seized on the latest company-wide, first-quarter financial results released today as evidence of the turnaround championed by Americas CEO, ex-Merrill Lynch brokerage chief, Bob McCann. “As Bob said before, and as he articulated in the turnaround plan in May of 2010, we’ve had some good new new money figures, some good productivity figures for FAs, but now that we have reach profitability of this order, everything is falling into place,” UBS spokeswoman, Karina Byrne, told Registered Rep. “That was the sort of metric that we need to have everything to fall into place.”
(Oh, and as for the persistent rumors on a potential sale of UBS Wealth Management Americas, Byrne told us: “WMA [Wealth Management Americas] is not for sale. There are considerable synergies with the other business divisions. UBS AG set out our strategy in November 2009 and this remains the focus of the Group Executive Board, the Board of Directors and UBS employees. This strategy is one which relies on all current business divisions with an emphasis on improved integration.”)
UBS Wealth Management Americas was spared costly legal provisions this quarter. Operating expenses dipped to $1,329 billion due to lower litigation costs, $10 million versus $157 million in the last quarter linked to the debacle over improper customer sales.
Alois Pirker, an analyst at independent research firm Aite Group, described the latest results as a “very promising report card” for Robert McCann at UBS. He said the numbers kept UBS Wealth Management Americas in line with its peers in the wirehouse space and was “good news” for the UBS brokerage.
Still, Piker said it was still too early to declare UBS Wealth Management back to full financial recovery. It still wasn’t exactly clear what is driving the growth in assets under management, he said. Pirker noted that one key to improvement in this area was an “organic” growth of AUM for individual advisors versus paying huge signing bonuses to recruit top producers with large books of business. On the net increase of 15 FAs this quarter, Pirker said it could be assumed that UBS, like other players in the wirehouse space, paid a heavy price for them.
Byrne at UBS nevertheless said the wealth management unit is not paying the sort of “outsized packages” like others for talent. “We are competitive, but Bob has always said he is not going to throw money at [advisors],” she said. Indeed, there is some evidence that UBS is not tossing money around – the Americas brokerage spent $152 million on the recruitment of FAs this quarter versus $169 million million a year ago.
Worldwide, UBS AG, the largest bank in Switzerland, lured the largest sum of net new money since late 2007. It reported first quarter profit that beat estimates. UBS said overall the bank brought in $19 billion in the quarter from wealth management and retail clients. It had net income of $206 billion, or 181 billion Swiss francs, surpassing analysts’ expectations for $192 billion, or 1.69 billion Swiss francs. CEO Oswald Gruebel hailed the jump in new money to the return of client “trust and confidence.”