Just when many on Wall Street thought Merrill Lynch’s thundering herd of financial advisers were a thing of the past, the Bank of America wealth management arm is hiring hundreds, and ratcheting up plans to enlarge its branch network in Manhattan and the outer boroughs.
“The thundering herd will be growing in and around New York City,” Andy Sieg, head of the BofA global wealth and investment management unit, told The Post, citing the bank’s recent big investments, upgrades and additional space on six floors at 75 Rockefeller Plaza as an encouraging sign.
Sieg was speaking in the wake of the unit’s quarterly earnings, the best on record with $1.05 billion in net income — a 4 percent or $127 million year-over-year increase.
Productivity is also up for Merrill’s advisers — for generations, fondly nicknamed the thundering herd — and has soared past the much revered $1 million mark, hitting $1.35 million in the latest quarter. It’s evidence that Merrill brokers are pulling in client money and new accounts at breakneck speed.
By several metrics, Merrill is the leading wirehouse in America, with client balances also surging to $2.8 trillion, up 8 percent, in the past 12 months.
New rounds of hires will help fuel further growth, based on asset gathering and cross-selling opportunities, analysts say. Merrill’s headcount is now close to 15,000 traditional financial advisers, not including its 2,700 financial solutions advisers (FSAs) and thousands more in affiliated private banking.
Sieg said that despite the huge investments Merrill continues to make in brokerage technology, apps, electronic tools and robo platforms, the wirehouse expects to see its roster of human advisers expand by leaps and bounds. Many more traditional advisers as well as FSAs will be recruited for net gains, he said.
Although no specific plans are confirmed for branch openings and expansions in New York City, Sieg hinted that new ground troops will be urgently needed to service and advise clients. “Client acquisitions today are running at 10 times the pace of five to 10 years ago,” he said, referring to new business.
Merrill currently has 3,500 adviser trainees as it targets a 1 percent annual growth in its adviser ranks. And by this year’s end, the brokerage giant is on pace to add 300 FSAs to its existing pool, many of whom are located at Bank of America branches. In a new twist, these latest FSA hires will work alongside FAs at Merrill Lynch.
“In no way are we diminishing the role of technology to service clients in a high-quality way,” Sieg added. “But there have been so many column inches written about technology in our business I thought it was time for a little reset to ensure we have the best, most diverse and most highly trained advisers to serve our clients.”
Analysts say the full-throttle campaign unveiled by Sieg to The Post could help consolidate Merrill’s firm grip as the biggest wealth management player. And it raises the stakes for rivals like Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo and JP Morgan, they added.
Sieg said Merrill FAs and wealth management professionals are in a “sweet spot” as history unfolds.
“This is an exciting time for the financial advisers at Merrill Lynch, because they can now deliver all the capabilities from across Bank of America,” he said.