A subtle peace has emerged in Wall Street's long-running broker recruiting wars, Morgan Stanley Chief Executive Officer James Gorman said on Wednesday.
Firms like Morgan Stanley have realized they no longer need to depend on poaching employees from rivals to boost revenue, he said, and are focused instead on earning more from a stable roster of existing brokers.
"The amount of recruiting they're doing from each other is very small, and it's small for good reason though," Gorman said on a conference call with analysts to discuss second-quarter results. "We don't need to recruit a lot of people. We're growing organically."
For most of their history, full-service wealth management firms have offered recruiting bonuses to lure away competitors' best brokers, and by extension, their clients. The number of those firms has dwindled as the industry consolidated, while small independent advisory offices have proliferated.
Brokerages have pulled back on costly recruiting over the past year and are instead giving brokers incentives to bring on new clients and squeeze more assets from existing ones.
The number of firms recruiting from each other has shrunk from 10 to roughly four over the past 25 years, Gorman said, referring to Morgan Stanley, Bank of America's Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, Wells Fargo Advisors and UBS Group AG's U.S. wealth management division.
Gorman's comments come less than a year after Morgan Stanley and UBS left a pact with Merrill, Wells Fargo and others agreeing to terms for broker departures, a step that led to a massive reduction in lawsuits firms filed after brokers decamped for rivals.
"We're, honestly, (experiencing) very little attrition, and as a result, we are doing very little recruiting," Gorman said. "We like growing in-house and we're doing that successfully, and clearly, it's an economically ... better proposition."
Morgan Stanley reported 15,632 brokers as of June 30, flat from the previous quarter and down about 1 percent from the prior year.
Bank of America's Merrill Lynch Wealth Management reported earlier this week that its headcount of 14,820 was essentially flat - down by 9 net brokers from last quarter and up by 9 over last year.
Wells Fargo, which reported last week, said the 14,226 advisers in its retail brokerage declined by 1 percent from the prior quarter and by 2 percent over last year.
UBS Group AG reports earnings on July 27.