Merrill all-female private wealth team with $875M AUM joins UBS

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An all-female advisor team serving an international private wealth clientele has left the thundering herd for a rival wirehouse. 

UBS announced in a press release Monday that it had hired O’Connor & Associates, a private wealth team based in San Jose, California, from Merrill Wealth Management. The team managed around $875 million of assets and had trailing 12-month production of around $4.5 million, a person familiar with the matter said. It includes private wealth advisor and managing director Ting O’Connor, senior wealth strategy associate Jenny Brummer and client service associate Erica Soriano. 

The move is a boon to UBS’s ambitions in the ultrahigh net worth space, but a blow to Merrill Wealth Management’s goals to target that same client segment. 

Earlier this month, Merrill lost a team managing $1 billion to upstart supported independence firm Sanctuary and a team managing $875 million to the registered investment advisory world. Merrill reported a slight dip in advisor headcount in April, although it had a record first-quarter influx of net new households. 

Merrill is also grappling with likely morale challenges among advisors after several recent leadership changes. Former Merrill president, Andy Sieg, left in late March, and Merrill’s longtime chief operating officer, Kirstin Hill, also announced her retirement last month after around 25 years at the firm. Hill will step down at some point this month, a Merrill spokesperson confirmed in an email, and the news was announced April 21 in an internal memo by new Merrill co-heads Lindsay Hans and Eric Schimpf. The firm did not confirm Hill’s last day on the job. 

In recent years, recruiters and industry consultants say they have heard from unhappy advisors about increasing pressure from Merrill’s parent company Bank of America to cross-sell banking products, and to cede ground to their rival BofA wealth peers at Bank of America Private Bank.   

In O’Connor’s case, it was disappointment with noticeable “cultural shifts within the firm,” especially over the past two years, that drove her team to leave Merrill, according to industry recruiter Roger Gershman. 

“This has been a common theme for a good solid two years now, where the bank is pushing their agenda and their culture upon these Merrill advisors. And it’s just not resonating with them,” Gershman said.  

Gershman, the CEO of San Francisco-based industry recruiting and consulting firm The Gershman Group, is a former Merrill advisor himself and a specialist in working with Merrill advisors. He advised on O’Connor’s move over the past year. 

‘Almost in tears’ 
Specifically, the bank had increased pressure on O’Connor’s assistant, Brummer, to meet a rising workload and even help other advisors, especially those at the Private Bank, Gershman said, adding that he had heard from many Merrill assistants that it was a source of frustration. 

“Her assistant was almost in tears about how much she is now feeling the pressure of handling the private banking customers’ needs, such as their loans, their credit cards, their online access,” Gershman recalled, speaking of Brummer. “Not only did they spend an incredible amount of time on their current practice, but now they have other functions that they never even were accustomed to, that they were demanded to exercise.”

“So that was the major reason for the move.” 

While all the attention is often on advisors who are unhappy when they leave, employers need to pay attention to their support staff, who are less noticed but critical to their advisor’s success, Gershman said. They can also be highly influential in a move. 

The O’Connor group was “a tight team” and had collaborated for many years together, Gershman said. While Brummer isn’t considered officially a financial advisor by job title, she technically is also an advisor — with active broker and investment adviser licenses

“These assistants are essential. So whether it’s their pay, their functions and really their happiness with a new company, is just instrumental in the function of the business,” Gershman said. 

The O’Connor group’s move was announced earlier in a LinkedIn post by Emily de la Reguera, the Silicon Valley market director at UBS. The team reports directly to de la Reguera and joins the UBS San Francisco Private Wealth Management Market, managed by Todd Locicero, according to the press release. 

“Your team has been absolutely amazing and we are thrilled to be a part of the UBS family!” Brummer said in a comment responding to de la Reguera’s LinkedIn post. 

The group chose UBS because UBS wasn’t perceived to be pressuring advisors to cross-sell banking products and would offer O’Connor many resources to help her serve an international client base, including many clients based in Asia, Gershman said. 

O’Connor is a chartered retirement planning counselor and a certified plan fiduciary advisor who speaks English, Mandarin and Cantonese, according to her LinkedIn profile. Her practice specializes in providing comprehensive wealth management to individuals, families, corporations, endowments and foundations, with a particular focus on helping startups. 

“I have a passion for helping startup companies and their founders through the entire business cycle from initial funding to the IPO/exit. In addition, I am a strong supporter of women professionals,” O’Connor wrote in her LinkedIn profile summary. 

“We look forward to having her help us continue to expand our client offering in this key market,” de la Reguera said of O’Connor in the release. “Ting, Jenny and Erica have built their practice and serve clients in a way that represents the future of our industry and feel that her clients will be very well-served here at UBS.” 

The release did not make any direct mention of Merrill. 

Although UBS faces its own challenges and risks as it plans the massive integration work of acquiring Credit Suisse, the industry perception of its wealth unit as an advisor destination has remained positive, recruiters told Financial Planning. “It is a dominant private bank globally,” Gershman said of UBS. Several First Republic advisors have moved there in the past two months, as well as to other wirehouses, but Gershman said he had not seen such advisors joining Merrill. 

Merrill declined to comment on the move. UBS said it was unable to make O’Connor available for an interview or to answer questions immediately.