The big four wirehouse firms are always trying to poach top talent from their rivals, but UBS Wealth Management seems to be doing a particularly job good job of late when it comes to snagging advisor teams from Bank of America/Merrill Lynch. That begs the question about the influence of Robert McCann in that process. 

McCann became CEO of UBS Wealth Management Americas in 2009, and late last year added the title head of UBS Group Americas to his business card. Prior to that he spent 26 years at Merrill Lynch, where he was chief of the company's global wealth management group before his contentious departure in early 2009 after Merrill was bought by Bank of America. McCann was popular with Merrill's "Thundering Herd," and his departure dismayed many advisors there. 

"There's no question that UBS being run by McCann makes it a logical place to be on the radar of a lot of Merrill advisors," says Mindy Diamond, president of Diamond Consultants, a recruiting firm in Chester, N.J. "He knows who the top advisors are there, but I think it's more that those advisors know him."

More than anything, Diamond notes, it's probably a case of Merrill's advisors being amenable to listening to offers from the other wirehouse firms. "There has been a tremendous culture change since Bank of America took over," she says. "A lot of advisors there have expressed the feeling that the bank has put its footprint on the business, and they don't like it."

Diamond doesn't see UBS as the only company grabbing Merrill's advisors. "Morgan Stanley is also equally winning, and a lot of Merrill's advisors are going to Wells Fargo or going independent," she says.

Earlier this year, UBS announced it lured away eight former Merrill advisor teams, including the Eubanks Lappin Group, a Raleigh, N.C.-based group with nearly $4 million in revenue. Other large groups who've joined UBS include Baldwin, Naples and Associates in Newport Beach and Pasadena, Calif., as well as the Kuchta Curole Group in New Orleans (both with revenue of about $2.4 million). 

UBS couldn't be reached for comment.

UBS' Switzerland-based parent company has been hit with its share of bad headlines, from the $2 billion trading scandal last year to hassles with U.S. authorities investigating tax evasion among its clients through offshore accounts. The advisor count at its U.S. wealth management division took a hit during the financial crisis, but the division has turned around under McCann's leadership. Helped by its recruitment of new advisors, it turned a profit in last year's fourth quarter, which reversed a loss the year before.

With roughly 6,800 advisors, UBS Wealth Management Americas is by far the smallest of the four U.S. wirehouse firms. But some people see that as an advantage. "Its size is its strength," says Danny Sarch of Leitner Sarch Consultants Ltd., a recruiter in White Plains, N.Y.

Among the wirehouses, he notes, UBS has a boutique feel that appeals to advisors who have an entrepreneurial bent but still want to work for a large firm. And UBS has empowered its branch managers to make certain decisions that make them more responsive to their advisors' needs. 

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