Merrill to continue focus on training over recruiting in 2020

Long the financial advice industry's leading trainer of young brokers, Merrill to renew attention on coaching

As it racks up record profits with the stock market hitting new highs, Merrill Lynch will continue to eschew recruiting experienced advisers and instead introduce or reinforce programs that focus on training young or less experienced professionals with the intent of turning those newbies into full-fledged wealth managers.

Merrill has been steadily positioning itself to focus on new blood advisers for the past few years. In 2017, Merrill Lynch, along with key wirehouse competitors Morgan Stanley and UBS, said it was backing away from recruiting, a traditionally but expensive way to hire new brokers and advisers.

Since then, Merrill, which has long been the financial advice industry’s leading trainer of young brokers, has put more attention to training and integrating less experienced brokers and advisers into its primary wealth management business.

For example, last April the firm said it intended to seat up to 300 young advisers, with some applicants coming from Merrill’s online and robo-advising brand, Merrill Edge, in branch offices with its most experienced and profitable advisers, commonly referred to as wealth managers.

That is just one part of the strategy. Merrill will continue to selectively hire advisers into what it calls its “accelerated growth program,” designed for advisers with two to seven years of experience and from community markets.

The firm now has 75 managers dedicated to coaching and training and is increasing opportunities for registered support staff and workers, known as client associates, to become financial advisers, said one Merrill Lynch executive on a call Wednesday morning with reporters.

“Merrill is putting no focus on shifting back in the direction of traditional adviser recruiting,” the executive said, emphasizing training.

Merrill Lynch’s parent, Bank of America Corp., released its fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday morning. Highlights for its Merrill Lynch division were record net new households — a big, recent strategic push for the firm — of more than 40,000 last year — up more than 25% compared to 2018 — and record pre-tax margins of 26.5% for 2019.

And the firm’s head count for financial advisers across its traditional wealth management and digital platforms was flat year-over-year, ending 2019 with 17,458. That total includes trainees at its traditional wealth management business.

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