UBS' Brian Hull wants to make life for advisor easier.
"We are constantly monitoring the pain points," says Hull, head of the firm's Client Advisory Group.
He says that if UBS is going be the firm of choice for wealthy clients, then advisors need to feel that the firm offers the best backing to serve those clients. Here, Hull talks with On Wall Street about technology, recruiting and what he wants to do to lighten the load on advisors.
HOW IS THE RISE OF ROBO ADVISORS AFFECTING YOUR FIRM?
We always want to be aware and competitive in terms of any advancements in the industry. Obviously, the use of robo advisors for a segment of clients is proving to be of some value. But when we think about our strategy of focusing on HNW and UHNW clients, it's part of a relationship.
I think it is incumbent upon us to remain competitive. It's part of the relationship. But honestly, in the HNW sector, clients are looking for a relationship with an advisor to help with all of their needs.
STIFEL MADE TWO ACQUISITIONS THIS YEAR, INCLUDING BARCLAYS' U.S. BROKERAGE UNIT. SOURCES ALSO SAY THAT CREDIT SUISSE MAY SELL ITS U.S. PRIVATE BANK AND THAT RAYMOND JAMES IS IN TALKS TO ACQUIRE DEUTSCHE'S U.S. BROKERAGE UNIT. UBS HAS DONE ACQUISITIONS IN THE PAST; COULD THERE BE MORE ON THE HORIZON?
I never say never, but it's certainly not our focus, and I don't have any expectations for the future that I can see.
We're not going to manage to a number or a quarter, or two quarters.
UBS' ADVISOR FORCE HAS DECREASED SOMEWHAT. WHAT SIZE DOES THE FIRM WANT TO BE?
We feel that 7,000 is a good benchmark. But we are much more concerned about quality than quantity.
SOURCES TELL ON WALL STREET THAT UBS IS TRYING TO STREAMLINE POLICIES AND PROCEDURES TO LIGHTEN THE BUREAUCRATIC LOAD ON ADVISORS, EVEN GOING SO FAR AS TO HIRE AN OUTSIDE CONSULTANT. IS THERE MERIT TO THESE REPORTS?
I don't know about any outside consultant.
[But] here's how I describe it to advisors: If we are going to be the firm of choice for high-net-worth and ultrahigh-net-worth clients, then advisors have to feel that UBS is the best place to be to serve their clients and grow their business.
First, we need to provide more resources to advisors than anyone else. We are a global firm with that kind of scale. That can be a real resource to clients.
Second, being able to serve client needs is very important.
You used the term "streamline". We want to make it easier for people to do business. We are constantly monitoring the pain points.
As long as it is best practices from a compliance standpoint, then we want to implement that.
We empower the local complexes to make decisions. I think some of the best decisions are made closer to the advisors. If they want to spend money on a marketing event, then that's a decision we want to empower them to make.
We want to be big enough ... to have the best resources available, but we want to have the feel of a boutique.
HOW DO YOU VIEW THE LABOR DEPARTMENT'S FIDUCIARY PROPOSAL?
In terms of having a fiduciary standard, we are in favor of that. We are supportive of going in that direction. [But] we have some concerns with how it's currently proposed.
We always want clients to have a choice, because individual clients have different levels of sophistication and need.
RECENTLY, THE SEC AND FINRA HIT UBS WITH SOME SUBSTANTIAL SANCTIONS RELATED TO THE FIRM'S SALE OF PUERTO RICO BONDS AND CLOSED-END FUNDS. HAS THE FIRM GOTTEN SOME OF THE WORST OF THIS PROBLEM BEHIND IT?
We've been in Puerto Rico for 50 years, and we've had a successful venture in Puerto Rico. We believe our advisors have helped our clients achieve their goals. In the last few years, we've had challenges in the muni bond market and fixed-income market.
And Puerto Rico has had challenges in its own economy. As a result, there are products that have been successful but ran into problems, and we've worked with regulators to address that.
Where we make mistakes, we admit them, correct them and move forward.
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