As the large wirehouses continue to retrench and search for new ways to train financial advisers, Bank of America said Thursday it was following through on previously mentioned plans to expand its online brokerage platform, Merrill Edge. It intends to hire 300 advisers to the program by year-end and open 600 new investment centers by 2020.
The 600 new Merrill Edge investment centers will be added to new and existing Bank of America locations, the company said.
If Merrill Edge meets those goals, it would have 4,000 registered representatives by the end of 2018 and 2,800 physical locations in two years.
Launched in 2010, Merrill Edge offers investors access to online, self-directed brokerage and banking services as well as the opportunity to work remotely with a broker. It has $184.5 billion in assets and more than 2.4 million accounts.
Advisers who work at Merrill Edge are called Financial Solutions Advisors.
Last May, Merrill Lynch, along with rival Morgan Stanley, said it was reducing its reliance on recruiting experienced advisers and putting renewed focus on training younger advisers and building staff. Merrill also has a history of training brokers.
Like other large firms, Merrill Lynch has raised the minimum account size for clients to work with a financial adviser over the past decade, with the goal of moving clients with smaller asset amounts into online brokerage platforms like Merrill Edge.
And since the credit crisis, large firms like Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley have also steadily seen experienced brokers and financial advisers move to different business models that can boost a broker or adviser's take-home pay. Those include registered investment advisers and independent broker-dealers, which pay brokers as independent contractors rather than employees. That makes online platforms potentially more valuable.
Digital investing is part of the big firms' strategies, but it remains to be seen how profitable digital investing can be for Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley.
Last year, Merrill Lynch rolled out its robo-platform, Merrill Edge Guided Investing, for clients who have at least $5,000 to invest. And at the end of last year, Morgan Stanley launched its robo-adviser, Morgan Stanley Access Investing.