Merrill Lynch to let advisers text with clients

All communication will be time- and date-stamped, tracked, logged and archived

Jan 11, 2018 @ 1:45 pm

By Ryan W. Neal

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management wants investors to be able to text their financial advisers.

Bank of America's wealth management division announced Thursday new client-to-adviser texting capabilities as part of a suite of digital client collaboration tools.

CellTrust, a mobile communications software company, will manage, track and deliver text messages. Clients can simply send messages to the adviser's office number. Advisers enrolled in Merrill's mobility program can use their personal Apple and Android devices to access and respond to messages via a mobile app. They can also use their office PC to create or continue those conversations using a secure web interface.

Merrill says all communication will be time- and date-stamped, tracked, logged and archived.

The program will roll out to Merrill's 15,000 advisers throughout January and February.

"Clients are telling us that they don't check email as regularly as text messages, and some clients have told us that they utilize text messaging as their only means of communication," said "Kabir Sethi, head of digital wealth management for Merrill Lynch, in an email to InvestmentNews. "We realized that we needed to fill this gap to provide better service to our clients."

While texting has been a popular mode of communication for years, industry regulations have prevented advisers from using it. Many texting apps, such as Apple's iMessage, cannot be captured, archived or supervised.

Third-party vendors like Smarsh and Redtail have already started tackling this problem with new features to their technology products for independent RIAs.

(More: Redtail launches compliant texting platform)

David Mehlhorn, Redtail's director of sales, said Merrill's texting features validate the work Redtail has done. He said texting is more efficient than emails or phone calls to confirm meetings or answer quick questions, and there is no learning curve since most clients text in their daily lives already.

"As we witness the upcoming transfer of wealth and a shift to a new generation of investors that grew up with text messaging, the need for a solution will be paramount," Mr. Mehlhorn said. "That said, even those who didn't grow up with texting have widely adopted it as a communication method of choice, meaning its importance now should not be overlooked or seen as an option that advisers can procrastinate about once it is available to them."

At least one other wirehouse also allows texting. Christine Jockle, a spokeswoman for Morgan Stanley, said the firm has infrastructure in place that allows financial advisors to message their clients, integrated with iPhone contacts and the firm directory.

She said it includes two-way texting, voice calls and notifications for appointment scheduling, reminders, confirmation messages and more. The functionality includes industry surveillance and archiving capabilities. Product recommendations, campaigns, trades and prospectuses are prohibited, she said.

Wells Fargo said it is continuing to explore texting capabilities but hasn't introduced anything yet.

A spokesman for UBS couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

(More: The Financial Firm's Guide to Compliant Text Messaging)

The texting capabilities are part of several updates Merrill is making to modernize collaboration between advisers and clients. The latest release integrates the Merrill Lynch Advisor eCommunications Center into Salesforce so advisers can send clients and prospects personalized emails featuring content created and approved by Merrill.

In January 2017, Merrill introduced new website capabilities that let advisers regularly update their pages with pre-approved content. The company said 8,000 financial adviser websites have taken advantage of the new feature over the last year.

The firm also gave advisers permission to create LinkedIn pages that connect with websites. Prospective clients can use Merrill's client website to use their own LinkedIn profiles to find an adviser with common connections.

Merrill said it will continue to invest heavily in client-facing platforms to meet increasing demand for access to financial services through digital channels.

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