In a major recruiting coup for Morgan Stanley Smith, the firm has grabbed a team of star producers from rival Merrill Lynch.

Harvey Kadden, Mihir Patel, Randy Knopp, Tim Baker and Chris Barber have a combined production of more than $14 million with prior combined assets under management of more than $1 billion. The team reports to complex manager Ben Firestein in Morgan Stanley Smith Barney's midtown Manhattan complex.

Danny Sarch, a recruiter of White Plains, NY-based Leitner Sarch said: "We've never had as many substantive, franchise-level Merrill producers talking to competitors as we're seeing now, even when compared to 2008.  I suspect that this team leaving is just the beginning of a bad wave for Merrill/B of A that will crest in 2012."

Another recruiter, Mindy Diamond of Chester, NJ-based Diamond Consultants, said: "This is a huge coup for MSSB and it speaks volumes about the sentiment amongst top Merrill advisors. This team was paid a retention package where the last payment would have been made in early 2012. The fact that they chose to leave before that time demonstrates a real discontent with the culture that B of A has brought to bear on Merrill Lynch advisors. Many advisors acknowledge that they are not happy where they are but wonder if there is a better option. The fact that a high profile team with a very significant business chose to join MSSB lends real credibility to its story. There is no doubt that this move will cause many other Merrill advisors to think about doing the same."

According to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Kadden was at Merrill Lynch for 30 years, and a member of the Circle of Champions, Merrill Lynch’s highest financial advisor recognition club, for over 10 years. He was named a managing director three years ago. He was named to Barron's Top 1,000 (state-by-state) listing in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

MSSB said that Patel was a 10-year veteran of Merrill Lynch, spending six of those years as an advisor. He was a member of the Circle of Champions for three years, and was appointed Managing Director this year. 

Knopp was at Merrill Lynch for 33 years, MSSB said. He began as an advisor then ran short-term institutional sales for a period before returning to be an advisor. He was a member of the Circle of Champions for eight years, and named a managing director in 1996.

MSSB said that Barber was at Merrill Lynch for eight years. He was on the taxable fixed income desk for five years prior to joining the team three years ago. He was top of his practice management development class for all three years and named to Executives Club this year.