BofA Aims to Integrate Edge Brokers into Merrill with Revamped Training
Bank of America has reinforced its effort to sell wealth management services and loan products across its client base by combining career development programs for advisors across Merrill Lynch and the consumer bank’s Merrill Edge unit.
The new structure, which encompasses autonomous training programs at Merrill Wealth and the consumer bank, has the dual purpose of developing Merrill advisors schooled in selling mortgages and bank products along with investments, and of providing a career path for women and minority group members who begin at the bank and want to be full-service advisors to the wealthy. Merrill Wealth advisors will continue to be paid a percentage of the grid-based revenue credits they produce, while Merrill Edge advisors receive salaries supplemented by bonuses.
“This new horizontal structure is a key to ensuring we have the best talent in the industry and that we cultivate advisors with a passion for growing their long-term career and a drive to make our clients’ financial lives better,” Merrrill Lynch Wealth President Andy Sieg and BofA’s Preferred and Consumer Banking & Investments President Aron Levine wrote in an internal memo. “A key benefit of this structure is that it will establish a natural progression from initial onboarding to advanced training and development of a subset of Consumer FSAs leading to advisor roles in Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.”
The joint development program cements Sieg’s repeated announcements that Merrill has retrenched from the expensive recruiting of experienced advisors to developing advisors internally, with a smattering of early-career brokers from other firms, to become the next generation of the so-called Thundering Herd of Merrill brokers.
The new structure “makes a world of sense” to a megabank intent on cross-selling the entire company, said Casey Knight, a Houston, Texas-based financial advisor recruiter.
“Merrill knows exactly what they want and how to accomplish it over the next 20 years,” he said. “You can’t continue to recruit in all these old dogs and teach them new tricks.”
The synergies with the bank should improve referrals of wealthy clients to Merrill Wealth, according to the memo.
“Eric and Matt will also work together to ensure that HNW [high net worth] and UHNW [upper high net worth] referrals from Digital, Financial Life Benefits and the Financial Centers provide a steady flow of opportunities to the Wealth Management businesses,” it said.
Schimpf, aside from a one-year stint with Macquarie Private Wealth, is a Merrill lifer.
In a separate memo to Merrill Wealth employees, Sieg said he has created a new advisory division for Schimpf to lead to supplement the business’ six geographic divisions. It combines the training program with the Community Markets group of advisors in locations far from Bank of America branches and the Advisor Growth Program for brokers with up to about 12 years of experience at other firms.
Schimpf, who had been running the CM and AGP programs, will continue to manage Merrill Wealth’s Atlanta-based Southeast division until a new leader is named, the company said.
Jennifer MacPhee, Merrill’s former head of training and a Bank of America market president, left on September 1. Graduation rates in the four-year training program, which typically includes more than 3,000 participants, are low, as they are throughout the brokerage industry. Merrill executives have said that trainees who start within the bank generally have higher success rates than their counterparts.
The FADP program suffered a Covid-era setback when Merrill discovered that neophyte brokers working from home during the pandemic had committed Do Not Call prospecting violations. Merrill now prohibits cold calls by trainees, and Schimpf will work on details of reviving the program as part of his new remit, according to Merrill.
Bank of America had 19,581 “wealth advisors” as of the end of the second quarter across Merrill, Merrill Edge and its Private Bank that was formerly called U.S. Trust. About 17,900 of them were Merrill Wealth and Merrill Edge advisors, as of June 30.
BofA does not break out how many are traditional Merrill brokers, but insiders said the number has decreased to about 14,000 due to attrition and retirement of experienced brokers from more than 15,000 a few years ago. (Gellene’s LinkedIn profile says he oversees more than 4,000 FSAs from Edge.)