Wells Fargo Hires BofA/Merrill Digital Planning Specialist Varner
Wells Fargo & Co.’s wealth division is rounding out its assemblage of former Bank of America and Merrill Lynch strategists as it looks to add tools to encourage its financial advisors to have more planning conversations with their customers.
In her new role, Varner, who started April 26, said she supervises a team of 15 to 20 people, and is focused on developing “snackable” tools and planning programs to allow advisors to give more relevant advice to customers about setting and meeting financial goals.
“It’s about enabling a connection for our clients with tools and capabilities of the advice framework, allowing them to seamlessly move in and out of this digital, physical world on their own terms,” Varner said in an interview.
She said it was still too early to point to specific tools or programs that she has in the works.
The new role, however, parlays her previous work as senior vice president and product manager for a life-planning tool at Bank of America, and other projects to develop planning and advice tech tools at Merrill.
Varner reports once again to Michael Liersch, a former Merrill planning strategist who joined Wells in July 2020 from J.P. Morgan Chase as head of advice and planning for Wells’ Wealth and Investment Management unit.
“It is not a coincidence,” Varner said of her teaming up with Liersch for a second time. “We share the same kind of philosophical approach and thinking around the goals-based approach for advice, and how to really understand behaviorally how people think about their money and the decisions they make.”
Liersch, prior to a two-year stint J.P. Morgan Chase, had developed an investment personality assessment tool for Merrill advisors to use with clients.
Wells also in July 2020 hired another Merrill vet, Ather Williams III to serve as its head of strategy, digital and innovation and to serve on its operating committee. Williams had most recently served as Bank of America’s head of business banking.
Merrill and other wirehouses have long promoted goals-based advice and planning, a trend that has picked up steam as brokerage firms look to migrate customers to fee-based accounts from more lumpy transactional business and to aggregate assets held away.
The planning trend was accelerated by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Regulation Best Interest, which has prompted additional documentation to show that brokers’ recommendations in commission accounts are in-line with customer objectives.
Wirehouses, including Merrill and Morgan Stanley, have also been updating their brokerage workstations over the past year to implement new technology and planning tools that allow advisors to automatically nudge clients to have conversations around life events or assets held away.