As part of its broad two-month welcome back to financial advisers making their way back to the office, Merrill Lynch on Thursday morning said it was taking the significant step of adding clients’ banking and mortgage information to advisers’ Client Engagement Workstation.
The change in the broker workstation is part of a broader effort, dubbed internally Project Thunder, to make work life a little bit easier and more comfortable for Merrill’s roughly 19,000 wealth management advisers, private bankers and call center brokers.
Until now, Merrill Lynch financial advisers would actually have to pick up the phone to make an inquiry into clients’ banking activity.
Thursday’s announcement was just the latest in the eight-week Project Thunder program, in which Merrill is aiming to introduce three new improvements for its advisers. Also this week, Merrill said it hired Danielle Papandrea to lead its practice management effort. She was with BlackRock for 10 years and before that she worked at Merrill Lynch.
Her title is Teaming and Practice Management Consulting Group Executive and she reports to Craig Young, National Business Development Executive.
The firm this week also said it was making it easier for advisers to customize greeting cards for clients. All Merrill Lynch offices are open across the country, and employees who have taken a Covid-19 vaccine and have voluntarily shared their vaccination status can return to the workplace.
Merrill Lynch consistently adds technology improvements for its advisers; a year ago, it rolled out its tech-driven workstation, the aforementioned Client Engagement Workstation. The workstation uses artificial intelligence and machine learning and is presented in a browser-like platform personalized for financial advisers to manage and connect with their clientele.
Merrill Lynch, whose advisers have been famously dubbed the Thundering Herd, has faced criticism in the financial advice marketplace for pushing advisers to cross-sell banking products. At the height of the financial crisis, Merrill said in September 2008 that it was being acquired by Bank of America Corp.
Merrill Lynch in July reported a 6% decrease in its overall head count of registered reps and financial advisers, at the same time the firm’s self-directed investing platform experienced gains.
While the changes included in Project Thunder are steps in the right direction, some advisers are likely to remain unhappy with other recent developments at the firm, said one industry observer. Those include the change in compensation and pay unveiled in 2018 that rewarded advisers for bringing in a healthy number of net new accounts, while those who fell short of new company goals saw compensation cuts. That plan was called the “growth grid.”
“It’s a smart idea for Merrill to take advice and guidance from adviser work force about what was frustrating them, and it’s a step in the right direction to change,” said Louis Diamond, president of Diamond Consultants, a recruiting firm. “But does it address the core issue of some Merrill advisers who feel they have less control over their practices and it’s basically harder to serve clients?”
Within Merrill, the Project Thunder program is gaining traction, said one executive.
“Advisers like the momentum, accelerated time frame and visibility of the program,” said Carole Wentz, managing director and Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Division Executive, Texas Mountain South, in an interview this week. “And having 24 wins in 60 days is something they can grab onto and give them momentum. There’s a buzz around it.”
“Since earlier this year, Merrill’s leadership has been in constant communication with many of the firm’s senior financial advisers — coordinating efforts and garnering feedback from the field,” wrote Rich Pluta, a veteran Merrill adviser in an email provided by a company spokesperson. “Project Thunder is the culmination of all the feedback received with solutions and next steps to address issues and deliver on the things that matter most to advisers.”
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.