For Merrill Lynch, emphasis on new clients and cross-selling paying off

The Thundering Herd is doing more business with new households

Apr 16, 2019 @ 2:04 pm

By Bruce Kelly

Merrill Lynch's effort to motivate financial advisers to reel in new clients and cross-sell financial products from parent Bank of America is working, with the company reporting Tuesday that its wealth management advisers are on track for six new relationships each this year.

Gross new household acquisitions by advisers are up 41% year over year, with the Thundering Herd bringing in a record 17,625 new client relationships in the first quarter. The update was part of Bank of America Corp.'s earnings call.

Merrill Lynch advisers made 41,000 referrals to other parts of the Bank of America franchise, with a quarter of those leading to new business, said a senior Merrill Lynch executive who asked not to be named. It's part of the firm's focus on an expanded role for its advisers, said the executive. "Advisers see the growth strategy bearing fruit in local markets," the individual said.

In 2017, Merrill Lynch released a compensation plan for its brokers that rewarded those who brought in at least five new clients, while cutting pay for advisers who fell short. This year, the firm increased the number of new households that advisers need to do business to six.

Merrill Lynch's headcount at the end of March was 14,761, down less than 1% when compared with the previous quarter and the same quarter last year.

Bank of America's global wealth and investment management unit reported its best quarter ever with $1.05 billion in net income, according to the company. That was a $127 million year-over-year increase, or a 4% gain.

Revenue for the group of $4.8 billion was down 1% compared with the first three months of last year, according to the company, which pointed to lower market valuations, brokerage revenue and general pricing pressures, which were offset by asset flows and the increase in new households.

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