Merrill Lynch advisors must provide clients with a combination of “high-tech” and “high-touch” service, according to Merrill Lynch Wealth Management president Andy Sieg.

Sieg discussed this approach on Monday during a call with journalists after parent company Bank of America released its first-quarter earnings results.

“Clients want an advisor who can deliver a blended service model that’s both high-tech and high-touch, with access to advice and guidance when they need it, along with digital capabilities that make managing their financial life easy, convenient and secure,” he said in a statement sent to FA-IQ on Thursday.

“We’re driving responsible growth through our Modern Merrill strategy by serving our clients completely across investing, banking, lending, trust and planning to bring it all together, providing easy and secure access through digital tools,” he added.

A record 81% of wealth management clients of Merrill and BofA Private Bank engaged with the company digitally in the first quarter, according to Sieg.

Merrill saw continued growth of digital communications between advisors and clients, with 380,000 households exchanging around 1.7 million secure messages, according to BofA.

“Advisors are increasingly leveraging digital solutions,” Sieg said during the Monday call, citing the firm’s Mobile Advisor Experience, or MAX, app that was launched in August 2021.

“This is an example of an investment we made during the pandemic to prepare advisors to be back out in the field,” he said during the call. “[T]his gives advisors a range of the features from the workstation that they have in the office, makes it accessible on their iPhone.”

MAX was used 350,000 times in the first quarter, which represented a 56% quarter-over-quarter increase, according to Sieg. “That’s a figure that will continue to go up as advisors experience the benefits of MAX,” he added during the call.

Wealth management client interactions with Merrill’s Erica virtual financial assistant increased 19% in the first quarter year-over-year, according to BofA’s earnings report.

Sieg said the return to offices by Merrill advisors isn’t expected to stunt the growth of digital engagement with clients.

“It’s also great to have advisors back in our Merrill offices, collaborating with their teams, meeting face-to-face more frequently with clients, but, at the same time, we continue to see increases in the way clients are using our digital capabilities,” he said.

Merrill Lynch employees were gradually returning to offices as of February. While Merrill does not have a vaccine mandate, the firm is “strongly encouraging” its employees to get fully vaccinated, including boosters, a spokesperson for the wirehouse said in February.

BofA chief executive officer Brian Moynihan also highlighted this week consumer appetite for digital services.

“You get a mortgage, a car loan, a card, open a checking account all online,” Moynihan said Tuesday during an interview with Jim Cramer on CNBC’s television program “Mad Money.”

BofA’s consumer sales through digital channels accounted for 53% of the total in the first quarter, up from 49% in the prior quarter and 49% in the same period last year, according to the company’s earnings report.

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