Can wirehouses compete for UHNW clients?

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1 July 2013
Alexander Camargo
Over the past year, UBS has been making moves to boost its private-wealth-management business. The private-wealth-management business is a small group of advisors (roughly 350) who are designated with those clients who have a minimum $10 million in investible assets. UBS has publicly stated that it expects strong growth out of this division. Given the oft-repeated comments about increasing costs to do business, plus the equally common talking point that wirehouses are losing mass affluent advisors and customers to independent brokers, it comes as little surprise that UBS (and other wirehouses) would focus their efforts upstream. However, with so much competition from private banks, and from family offices, can wirehouses continue to grow their UHNW business? After all, family offices offer a more "open architecture" as it relates to selecting portfolio managers. Furthermore, hits on the wirehouse brands over the past several years may make UNHW investors shy to invest with major banking groups that are targeted by regulators and frequently portrayed in the news in less than favorable lights. However, with the UHNW customer, performance and diversity of products are king, and the wirehouses have a near-endless offering in terms of products and will staff their best performing managers to this group. Furthermore, a recent Gallup poll has shown a slight but noticeable uptick in Americans' confidence in banks. Yes, there are some benefits to family offices -- with households this wealthy, privacy is important and family offices attract less attention than will a UBS or Merrill. However, wirehouses are staking their claim that they have the best portfolio managers and can offer the most diverse product set. Thus far, their efforts have been very successful....this analyst believes the wirehouses are here to stay in the UHNW space.


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