Despite a dip in profits, UBS Wealth Management Americas' top executive, Robert McCann, appears to be making progress in turning the troubled unit around, according to a company executive.
The company announced Tuesday that the unit recorded a pre-tax profit of $13.7 million in the first quarter, compared with $162.2 million in the prior quarter. Revenues in the division declined 2%.
John Cryan, the Swiss company’s chief financial officer, said the wealth management results included restructuring charges of about $41 billion, as well as an increase in financial advisory deferred compensation and the introduction of Growth Plus, a financial advisory loyalty program.
He said he expects further charges of $137 billion this quarter.
The unit had net new money outflows of $6.6 billion in the first quarter, compared with $10.9 billion of outflows in the fourth quarter. Though this was still negative, UBS sighted a couple of encouraging developments” Outflows related to financial advisor attrition decreased and net new money from financial advisors who have been at the company for more than one year was positive for the first time since the first quarter of 2008.
Cryan called this positive turn in “same-store sales” an encouraging development.
The number of advisors in the Americas division fell to just under 6,900, he said. He noted that the division was initially structured for about 10,000 advisors so the company still “has a way to go,” he said.
McCann will unveil more details of his plans for the division next week, Cryan said.
Indeed, McCann has already announced some parts of his overall plan. In a much-anticipated town-hall meeting with advisors last month, he said that the size of UBS Americas is just where he wants it, which answered a lingering question of whether a company with about 7,000 advisors can compete as a wirehouse.
While the other wirehouses have anywhere from 14,000 to 18,000 brokers, and regionals have as few as a thousand, UBS [UBS] still plans to stake out a mid-field position with a strategy focused on agility.
That town hall meeting went a long way to calm a workforce that has been frazzled over the past couple of years by defections, a tidal wave of bad press, and recent layoffs, according to market observers.
Industry recruiters who see firsthand accounts of advisors moving to and from firms say that the strategy is a good idea—if it can be executed.
Danny Sarch of Leitner Sarch Consultants said at the time that the company’s ability to be nimble would be a major attraction for advisors. If an advisor has a problem that can be addressed quicker at UBS than the major wirehouses, it would be a real differentiating factor, he said. If an advisor were seeking some type of an exception for a client he would be able to get an answer sooner at UBS, if indeed McCann’s plan is executed.
“At the big companies, there are fewer exceptions... you just can’t manage 18,000 people all doing exceptions, it would be too burdensome,” Sarch said, speaking about the other wirehouses.
Still, the execution part of this plan will be an enormous challenge, said recruiter Rick Peterson.
“The obstacles facing McCann are so dramatic, if he can pull this off, it will be one of the management coups of the century,” he said at the time.
McCann also put to rest the ongoing speculation that UBS might re-brand itself as PaineWebber, or that the U.S. wealth management arm might be divested. Neither is in the plans, he said.
Much of the rest of the plan McCann outlined in his meeting was largely expected. He reiterated a plan to achieve $1 billion in pre-tax profit within the next three to five years. UBS will focus its resources on the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth (which it defines as $1 million to $10 million, and more than $10 million, respectively).
Tuesday’s earnings announcement comes against a backdrop of first quarter net profit for the parent company of $2 billion, an increase from $1.1 billion a year earlier.