(Dow Jones) The Americas brokerage arm for UBS AG is standing more on its own two feet and leaning less on its Swiss parent a year after Robert McCann assumed leadership of the unit.

UBS Wealth Management Americas already had a Utah-based bank and other independent components when McCann arrived from rival Merrill Lynch last October. But new hires and other strategic moves have bolstered the department's regional operations in mortgages and loans, alternative investments and research since then.

"McCann is clearly moving forward with separating his division from the Swiss influence, and rounding it out with new hires in areas where UBS had some catching up to do compared to other full-service, stand-alone firms," says Alois Pirker, brokerage analyst with Aite Group.

The test now is how this new independence feeds the unit's bottom line. "If he can turn it into a profitable machine, he can use the proceeds for investing back in his own business, rather than relying on money from Switzerland every quarter," Pirker says.

There has long been speculation that UBS might sell or spin off its U.S. unit at some point, and its greater independence is hardly likely to discourage that talk among its 6,760 advisors. But a UBS spokeswoman insisted, "This has never been part of the strategy, and it should not be used to confuse the market or our employees."

A spokesman added, "McCann has been very vocal about how important it is for Wealth Management Americas to be a part of the larger UBS." That said, he added, the company will continue to look for strong hires in the U.S.

Upon arrival McCann set some lofty goals, including an annual pre-tax profit of about $1 billion within three to five years. He has a long way to go, considering the $106.6 million profit for the first half of this year, a figure that excludes about $154.2 million in restructuring costs.

But client outflows and advisor attrition have decreased while average advisor production has increased, according to quarterly statements. The group's annualized production is now at $793,000 per advisor, an average McCann would like to see reach about $1 million with a focus on advisor quality rather than quantity.

McCann has used cash incentives, including the "Growth Plus Award," to stanch the loss of higher producing brokers. In his first six months, the attrition rate among advisors who generated $1 million or more and left for competitors fell to 6.1% from 31.7% a year earlier. He says he'd like to see it stay below 5%.

"Those are hard goals to reach, especially without spending a ton more money on restructuring," a UBS advisor in the northern U.S. said. "But I think the success of the changes and the hires he's already made are giving the Swiss enough confidence to invest more in our side of the business."

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