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Financial Advisor Compensation: Incentives for Bagging Wealthier Clients

By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK (MainStreet) Starting your relationship with an investment advisor by completing a comprehensive plan makes good financial sense, right? Yes, for you as well as your advisor. While the need for a financial plan to guide investment goals may seem apparent, more advisors may be recommending them in part due to incentives offered by their firm.

UBS, Wells Fargo and Merrill Lynch have been encouraging their investment consultants to offer financial plans to their clients, and are willing to offer bonuses to reward the good behavior. In rolling out their 2014 compensation plan to advisors this week, UBS announced it will give advisors a bump to their expense account plus up to 75% of the fee charged for developing a financial plan for their clients. That's a fee that can range from $1,000 to $50,000, but reportedly averages some $4,000 per plan.

UBS is also urging advisors to target new clients with at least $1 million to invest -- and won't compensate advisors at all for working with clients that have less than $100,000 to manage. UBS, as well as Merrill Lynch and other brokerages, shuffle smaller clients to advisors manning phone centers.

Meanwhile, financial advisors at Merrill Lynch may be kicking into super sales mode next year as the firm rewards high-production advisors who work in teams. The bonus will be worth 10% of revenue growth for teams that double their fee and commission production over the next five years. The teams must include a member with a Certified Financial Planner or Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Another incentive program will reward Merrill advisors who guide clients to fund trusts.

Edward Jones ranked #1 in compensation for advisors producing $1 million or more in revenue in 2013, according to research conducted by On Wall Street magazine. Total earnings, including average office profit for an Edward Jones million-dollar producer were $555,750 this year. UBS ranked second with earnings, including year-end awards and deferred compensation, totaling $526,750.

Advisors with $400,000 in production were reportedly best compensated this year by the regional firm Stifel, with a total payout of $186,000 in 2013.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet

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