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Bank of America Adds 300 Salaried Advisors for New Offering

By Miriam Rozen June 5, 2019

Bank of America has unveiled plans to add 300 new salaried financial advisors to its Merrill Lynch Wealth Management unit’s offices and pair them with prospective clients who previously would have been eligible for only the bank’s robo-advisory services.

The news underscores BofA’s ambition to provide financial advisory services to demographic groups deemed far from profit-worthy by other wirehouses. Specifically, the company announced plans to launch a new advisor-enhanced robo service, which it’s tagging as “Merrill Guided Investing.”

BofA will make the new service available to prospects who have at least $20,000 to invest and a willingness to pay an 0.85% annual fee — or $14.17 per month on that minimum amount of assets.

For that fee, the new “Merrill Guided Investing” clients will get a one-on-one relationship with one of BofA’s 2,700 salaried advisors, a pool of employees that the company will expand to 3,000 by year’s end. (By comparison, its Merrill Lynch Wealth Management unit employs 15,000 FAs who are compensated based on the revenues they or their teams each generate for the wirehouse.)

Merrill Guided Investing clients will work with the salaried advisors, referred to as Financial Solutions Advisors (FSAs), “to identify their life priorities, chart a course toward pursuing their financial goals and track progress toward those goals,” the company states in a press release.

BofA will offer this service to customers through its bank branches, robo-advisory centers, or wirehouse offices.

“The whole purpose is to complete our continuum of offerings; this completes the suite. This is for the client who wants a combination of do-it-yourself digital experience with some advice,” explains a BofA spokesperson.

The new FSAs will continue, as the bank’s existing salaried advisors do now, to refer clients whose investable assets grow beyond $250,000, and who need more sophisticated advice, to Merrill Lynch Wealth Management FAs, the spokesperson says.

“'Robo' is sort of a dirty word when there is an advisor involved,” says a recruiter who helps Merrill Lynch Wealth Management attract advisors, but who asked not to be identified by name for this story.

But the new Merrill Guided Investing service will help BofA expand its reach to clients traditional FAs would refuse, the recruiter argues.

“If you work at Merrill Lynch [Wealth Management], you don’t want any client with under $250,000. But this service will appeal to that smaller client, the entry-level client, the so-called millennial. It’s segmentation,” he says.

The pairing of digital tools with human advisors represents a continuing and growing trend in the industry, as FA-IQ's parent company newspaper the Financial Times previously reported.

“With digital tools, investors gain more transparency and options over how their wealth is managed. These tools also create dangers for clients, however. For example, constant online alerts about portfolios’ balances can also trigger investors to make emotionally driven and potentially unsound decisions.

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“For advisers, the emerging digital tools also risk making clients needier: since investors receive more information than previously and, as a result, may seek more hand-holding to decipher it. The online services also potentially threaten to make advisers’ own professional services and acumen obsolete,” the FT article states.

But a Boston-based Merrill Lynch Wealth Management FA told the FT she sensed no such threat. Digital tools hardly threaten her own obsolescence and relationship with a client, Mary Mullin told the FT. Instead, “they just enhance it,” she said.