Merrill Lynch client balances climb 31% year over year

Merrill Lynch, the vast wealth management arm of Bank of America Corp., reported a 2.9% annual decrease to its overall registered rep and financial adviser head count, at the same time indicating a desire to hire experienced financial advisers in key locations on both coasts.

As part of Bank of America’s earnings on Thursday morning, Merrill Lynch reported a decline of 585 advisers for the 12 months ending March 31 compared to the same time last year.

Like its competitor Wells Fargo Advisors, Merrill Lynch recently changed its reporting of financial advisers and no longer separates its various business lines when tallying FAs but now combines three groups — wealth management advisers, private bankers and Merrill Edge call center advisers — for a total of 19,808 at the end of last month. In March 2020, the bank had a total of 20,393 advisers.

In a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, a senior Merrill Lynch executive, who asked not to be named, focused on record client balances at the end of March of $3.5 trillion, up 31% year over year, record first quarter revenue at the Merrill Lynch wealth management franchise of $4.2 billion and 6,400 net new households in the first quarter.

Attrition, or loss of employees, to competitors was 4% for the quarter, the second consecutive quarterly decline, the executive said.

“We continue to selectively hire, mostly through programs for advisers early in their careers,” the executive said, adding that the firm hired 220 adviser last year and 60 in the first quarter. The firm had pulled back on hiring trainees in the first half of 2020 due to hurdles created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We expect to accelerate and hire some selective advisers as well in areas we want to grow quickly,” including San Francisco and the Silicon Valley as well as Florida and another half-dozen or so markets, the executive said.

The total number of financial advisers with the firm will likely be in the neighborhood of 20,000 going forward, the executive said.

Meanwhile, Merrill Lynch’s vaunted trainee program is coming off some difficulties in 2020; the firm last summer suspended its adviser trainees’ abilities to contact potential new clients after outreach-related violations were noted.

With cold calling for prospects facing questions, trainees will likely be turning to using LinkedIn to build and expand networks, the executive said.

One industry recruiter said the social media platform geared to business professionals was a great way to prospect wealthy individuals.

“When it comes to finding executives and using title searches, with proper training Merrill can have a lot of junior advisers going out there and prospecting,” said Casey Knight, executive vice president and managing director at ESP Financial Search, a recruiting firm. “They can search for engineers, doctors, vice presidents, and then get thousands of messages out to them.”

The post Merrill Lynch client balances climb 31% year over year appeared first on InvestmentNews.

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