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Morgan Stanley’s advisor teams are getting bigger and some are appointing COOs to help run them, top wealth exec says

  • Teams of Morgan Stanley financial advisors are growing in size and sophistication. 
  • That’s according to Vince Lumia, one of the firm’s top wealth management executives. 
  • Some teams are deciding to hire business managers or chief operating officers, he said. 
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The lives of Morgan Stanley wealth management clients are getting more complicated. Their financial advisors are acting accordingly, one of the firm’s most senior wealth management executives said on Thursday.

“Clients want advice on so many more aspects of their lives today,” Vince Lumia, the firm’s head of field management, said during an industry conference.

He pointed to matters rich clients deal with: transferring wealth to the next generation as analysts expect to see the largest inter-generational wealth transfer in the coming years, or complex trust and estate issues. 

The demands on advisors often handling millions or billions of dollars for clients have grown so intense that teams have grown in size and “the days of a two-person team with an assistant or two is very much in the rear-view mirror,” Lumia, who has been with the firm for two decades and started out as an advisor, said. 

That’s also meant more teams of advisors in the wealth unit, which oversaw some $4.2 trillion in client assets as of March, are making decisions to add roles to their practices to help run the show. 

“Leadership across some of our higher-performing teams once focused around a few senior advisors,” he said Thursday during a conference held remotely by the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, the trade organization that lobbies on behalf of brokerages, investment banks, and other firms. 

“But we’re seeing an emerging trend of a business manager or even a COO, and someone who is actually running the day-to-day of the practice so that the senior advisors are exclusively focused on connecting with clients and prospects,” he said, referring to a chief operating officer.

A spokesperson declined to comment on hiring plans. Last quarter, the firm stopped disclosing how many advisors work in its business — in a move similar to rival Merrill Lynch Wealth Management no longer breaking out its number of full-service financial advisors — but reported 15,950 financial advisors at the end of 2020. 

So-called wirehouses Morgan Stanley and Merrill have two of the largest wealth businesses in the world, alongside competitors UBS and Wells Fargo. But they have all lost some of their allure for financial advisors in recent years in part because of independent firms and registered investment advisory firms, or RIAs, marketing themselves as having more flexibility than the wirehouses allow. 

Some of the more prominent RIAs and independent broker-dealers, like Rockefeller Capital Management and LPL Financial, have lured away teams of advisors from all four wirehouses in recent years.

Still, the wirehouses have tended to agree that teams of advisors are the norm. This structure can also make it easier to integrate newer financial advisors into the business. 

“We’ve moved well beyond the day of a sole practitioner in our business,” Merrill president Andy Sieg told Insider in 2019, adding that some 80% of Merrill advisors at that point were on teams. 

Lumia said he sees growing teams, as opposed to advisors striking out on their own as a so-called solo practitioner, as a good thing. 

“Having scale, building the right team and infrastructure affords the team the time to serve the clients on the things that are important to them,” he said. 

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