Merrill website focuses on same-sex couples

Jan 4, 2009 @ 12:01 am

By Andrew Coen

In an effort to enhance its wealth management services for gay, bisexual and transgender clients, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc. recently launched a domestic-partner website that highlights financial planning techniques for same-sex couples.

The offering, called Domestic Partners under Merrill Lynch Private Banking and Investment Group's Total Merrill platform, highlights wealth management techniques for same-sex couples by using case studies on issues such as retirement, estate planning, and children's education and inheritance.

Financial planning can be more complex for domestic partners because they don't have the same automatic legal rights and benefits as married couples. Many of Merrill Lynch's financial advisers are trained to work with same-sex-couple clients through the firm's office of diversity.

"[Same-sex couples] are individuals that have wealth management needs, and we want to be the ones that help them," said Victoria Wright, vice president and manager for multicultural-marketing efforts at New York-based Merrill Lynch. "We are the only ones out there at this time that have a site like this."

The website is an extension of Merrill Lynch's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender network, launched in 2005 under the leadership of its diversity board.

The financial services giant sees a huge opportunity to serve the same-sex-couple market because the population's buying power is already estimated at $1 trillion, according to Ms. Wright.

"For us to just exclude a market this big would not be very prudent of us," she said.

Merrill Lynch is looking into multimedia enhancements for the website this year including possible webinars and webcasts.

The acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., isn't expected to affect the firm's efforts toward assisting same-sex couples with wealth management needs, Ms. Wright said.

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