(Dow Jones) Wells Fargo & Co. is sticking with the unique transparency of Wachovia Securities' payout grid for the nearly 12,000 brokers who now make up Wells Fargo Advisors.
Wells Fargo has required lots of adjustment by Wachovia employees after the acquisition. But the simplicity of the legacy compensation plan made it too good to change, said Erik Karanik, managing director for branch incentives and cost management at Wells Fargo Advisors.
"We want to be able to have our advisors figure out their pay on the back of a napkin," Karanik said. "We want our compensation booklet to be three pages, rather than a 50 or 60 page book."
Less time spent calculating pay means more time spent with clients, he said.
The cash payout amounts to this: a 24% payout on the first $10,000 generated in commissions and fees each month, and a 50% payout on all commissions and fees beyond that. The pay plan also has some deferred compensation opportunities and includes an expense account.
Other brokerages have more complex payout grids, in which advisors take home a higher percentage the more they produce. For example, a $300,000 producer at another major brokerage could receive 35% of their production, while a $1 million producer could receive 40%.
Other firms also pay higher percentages for fee-based business than transactional business. Because many advisors shift between production brackets, and have both fee-based and transactional business, they have difficulty predicting the size of their paychecks.
The compensation plan that Wells Fargo had for its own advisers before the acquisition will remain in effect for them.
One legacy Wachovia advisor, based in the Midwest, said he and others had expected a change in the way they got paid.
"We thought they would move us to the payout the Wells Fargo brokers had, but they kept both of ours separate," he said. "We have enough to deal with from the merger, so it's one less thing to worry about.
Lower producers, or rookie advisors, are especially glad there haven't been changes. "I'm pretty young, so I'm just barely breaking $300,000 (annually)," said an adviser in the Southeast who joined Wachovia three years ago. "If I was paid on the grids at any of the other firms I wouldn't take home nearly as much as I do here."
Wells Fargo recently converted Wachovia over to its payroll system, and it came with some benefits: There is no longer a dollar cap on the company's match for employees' 401(k) contributions, and the company also brought back a voluntary deferred compensation program.
However, because the company was rushed to complete the payroll transition by the beginning of this year, the new payroll system ended up causing some significant tax withholding issues for the brokers.
"When we went down that road, we identified the taxation issues as a problem," Karanik said. "But we were doing payroll changes for the whole bank, not just Wachovia Securities, and it didn't make sense to hold up the whole integration over that one issue." He said the company is working toward a long-term solution, and is providing low-interest rate loans to affected advisors in the meantime.
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