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While bankers have been lambasted in the press over the past year or so brokers and financial advisors at the very same institutions have been earning multiples more than their heavily criticized counterparts:

Bonus has become a bad word for traders, investment bankers and top executives at Wall Street securities firms. For thousands of brokers, though, the big bucks just keep rolling in.

Mark Curtis, one of the biggest generators of commissions in the brokerage giant formed last year by Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc.’s Smith Barney unit, got a payout in 2009 that people familiar with the firm estimate at $10 million or more.

Morgan Stanley Smith Barney promised top brokers like Mr. Curtis 75% of certain fees and commissions generated in 2008 as part of the pay plan agreed to by both companies as a way of enticing top brokers to stick around after the merger. A team of brokers led by Mr. Curtis has brought in more than $15 million in annual fees and commissions in recent years, these people say.

About one-third of the combined firm’s 18,000 brokers got a one-time payment, structured as a multiyear loan that is forgiven if the broker stays put. Merrill Lynch & Co.’s top brokers received a similar award last year when Bank of America Corp. acquired the securities firm.

The retention awards and similar signing bonuses for brokers exceed $10 million in some cases across Wall Street, people familiar with the matter say. At most firms, the highest producers with retention deals also get smaller payments later on that are based on future or past asset growth or revenue. The retention payments are in addition to $3 million to $5 million that top-dog brokers earn yearly through fees and commissions.

If you thought bankers were outrageously overpaid over the past few years you should take a look at broker pay over the last 100 years or so. Fred Schwed’s “Where Are the Customers’ Yachts?” was first published all the way back in 1940. “The more things change…”

For more on this topic read the February issue of The Felder Report.