UBS Lands $3-Million Merrill Lynch Lifer in New Jersey
Brokerage firms never like to see big producers walk out the door, but it hurts a lot more when the departed has a long history with the firm, an unmarked record and is moving to a direct competitor.
Matthew Kraft did the damage to Merrill Lynch on Monday, moving with three client associates from his Montvale office after 21 years to a UBS Financial Services branch in nearby Paramus. He worked within Merrill’s “private banking and investment group” (PBIG), which focuses on customers with $10 million or more of investable assets.
Kraft, who had spent his entire career at Merrill in a practice begun by his father, generated about $3 million of fees and revenues in the previous 12 months, according to two people familiar with his business. Associates answering his phone and that of the UBS office’s branch manager said he was not immediately available to comment.
“We’re very sad,” said a person answering Kraft’s old number at Merrill’s Montvale office, which is part of its Paramus complex.
Merrill, UBS and Morgan Stanley have each retrenched from recruiting veteran advisors in a bid to control costs and end what some executives say has been a zero-sum game of raiding that depresses their balance sheets with forgivable-loan liabilities. As Kraft’s move indicates, however, checkbooks at the wirehouses are still open for strong candidates, recruiters said.
Kraft’s previously unreported move follows the jump to UBS at the end of June of another longtime family team at Merrill. Jacqueline Kunkel and her brother Donald moved on June 27 to UBS after working in the Cincinnati area at Merrill for 28 and 17 years respectively, according to their BrokerCheck records, which are unblemished with disclosure events. They managed $755 million of client assets, according to a client associate answering their phone.
UBS’s advisor force is believed by brokers looking at their internal rankings to have shrunk by more than 150 this year to around 6,880, including several multi-million-dollar teams, which may have kindled a new hiring spurt to fill chairs.
On the same day that the Kunkels joined the firm in Ohio, a team led by Brian Meulebrouck and George Andres that was managing $220 million for Merrill clients in Farmington Hills, Michigan, moved to UBS’s branch in nearby Birmingham, Meulebrouck confirmed. The team was started by Meulebrouck’s now-retired father, who worked at Merrill since 1970. Brian Meulebrouck started his career with the firm in 1995.
The move was stimulated by Merrill’s restrictive new policies on commission-based retirement accounts, the broker said.
The broad slowdown in wirehouse recruiting also has stimulated a well-publicized move of some brokers to become registered investment advisors. Kraft’s move on Monday coincided with an announcement from Dynasty Financial Partners that it helped a Merrill PBIG team in Beverly Hills led by Matthew Celenza to form an independent firm called Boulevard Family Wealth.
Celenza in 2012 lost an arbitration battle with Barclays to keep $5.1 million of a forgivable loan that the firm said he owed when he left to join Merrill in July 2012 after working only four months at Barclays. He first registered as a broker in 1995 at Joseph Charles & Associates, and has also done stints at the Boston Group, Morgan Stanley and Smith Barney, according to his BrokerCheck records.
—Mason Braswell contributed to this story.