Wells Fargo adviser headcount dips

The decrease follows a gain in the previous quarter, the firm's first since the retail banking scandal

Jan 12, 2018 @ 1:56 pm

By Greg Iacurci

Wells Fargo Advisors saw a slight decline in adviser headcount in the fourth quarter, a reversal following the previous quarter's positive turnaround following a retail banking scandal that racked parent company in 2016.

The wirehouse ended the quarter with a total 14,544 advisers and brokers, a loss of 20 advisers compared with the third quarter. The total is statistically flat quarter-on-quarter, but is down more than 2% from 2016, when the firm ended the year with 14,882 advisers.

Emily Acquisto, a spokeswoman for Wells Fargo Advisors, said 75 advisers retired in the fourth quarter, which contributed to the net headcount reduction. Further, adviser productivity grew 10% year-on-year in the fourth quarter the spokesperson said.

"The flat quarter we saw is really far outweighed by our financial adviser productivity," Ms. Acquisto said. She declined to provide specific productivity figures.

Wells Fargo was fined $185 million by regulators in September 2016 following a revelation that employees had opened bank accounts for customers without their knowledge or approval. There were perhaps more than 1 million such fake accounts opened.

Wells Fargo experienced three consecutive quarters of adviser flight after news of the banking scandal broke. However, the firm seemed to turn things around in the third quarter, notching an increase of 37 advisers.

The bank was also scrutinized last year for its auto-loan practices, whereby hundreds of thousands of clients who took out car loans were charged for insurance they didn't need.

In May, Wells Fargo announced it would boost bonuses to adviser recruits, at the same time its wirehouse rivals said they were pulling back on such recruiting efforts. Being aggressive with signing bonuses is seen as way to help shore up adviser headcount.

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