After hunkering down on hiring advisers during the pandemic, Merrill Lynch is once again looking to bolster the numbers of its thundering herd, This year it’s targeting more young financial advisers with limited experience in the industry and, more selectively, experienced advisers outside major metropolitan markets.
This is a modification of Merrill Lynch’s strategy during and even before the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the economy in March 2020. This year the firm wants to add 500 early career advisers through what it calls its “accelerated growth program,” dubbed AGP internally — 2½ times as many as it usually does annually.
These are financial advisers and registered reps from other firms looking to build their practices by joining a large enterprise like Merrill Lynch; over the past couple of years, the firm has added roughly 200 such advisers each year. It’s a three-year program and compensation is based on a salary.
Merrill Lynch is also putting out the “now hiring” sign for veteran financial advisers in markets that it has shunned recently in recruiting.
Several years ago, Merrill Lynch pulled back from hiring experienced financial advisers, which can be lucrative for the adviser but exorbitantly expensive for the firm, and focused on training young advisers. More recently, it has refocused its hiring of veteran financial advisers, or those who generate $1 million or more in annual revenue, to those working in large markets like Miami and Silicon Valley.
This year, the firm intends to widen the scope of its hiring of experienced advisers to places where it’s getting calls from advisers and sees potential for growth, including Austin, Texas; Aspen, Colorado; Charleston, South Carolina; Reno, Nevada; Nashville, Tennessee; Iowa, Maine and other locations.
These changes in hiring come on the heels of Merrill’s announcement last year that it anticipated graduating 1,000 new advisers per year from its adviser development program, or ADP.
“We’ve been through an extraordinary period during the pandemic,” Andy Sieg, president of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, said in an interview Friday morning. “Some of our competing firms are growing from competitive recruiting.”
“We haven’t been focused on competitive recruiting, and hiring in those programs stopped,” Seig said. “We didn’t just slow down training programs, we stopped hiring.”
Now, the expectations are that the firm will increase its overall head count by 3% to 4% annually over the next five to 10 years, for a net increase of 600 to 700 each year, Sieg said.
Riding the wave of a record breaking stock market, last year produced an embarrassment of records at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch wealth management group, which reached new highs on metrics ranging from assets to revenue.
But the flip side to that story was a decline in training and hiring financial advisers. Bank of America/Merrill Lynch reported 18,846 advisers at the end of last year, including Merrill, Bank of America private bank and consumer investments. That compares to 20,103 at the end of 2020, a decline of 6.3%.
Attrition of financial advisers at Merrill Lynch is historically 4%, so last year’s rate was above the norm. According to InvestmentNews Research, in 2021, Merrill Lynch saw a net loss of 1,070 financial advisers, a staggering number for any organization and the highest that any firm saw last year. It was followed by Wells Fargo Clearing Services, which does business as Wells Fargo Advisors, which saw a net loss of 999 advisers last year.
“During a pandemic, you only saw half of the balance of trade occur,” Sieg said, referring to the attrition level of financial advisers last year. “We didn’t have normal hiring occur.”
“Now, we are going to selectively do some additional competitive hires of experienced advisers with traditional deal structures,” he said. “We previously discussed doing that in Florida and Silicon Valley. We’re going to expand the scope of that.”
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Andrew is half-human, half-gamer. He’s also a science fiction author writing for BleeBot.