Merrill Taps Veteran Exec for Affluent Operations

Mike Bitterly returns to the Thundering Herd after work with BlackRock

Merrill Lynch has named Mike Bitterly its new head of Affluent Segment and Strategy operations. Bitterly will be responsible for helping advisors meet the four goals of its Client Experience program for investors with between $250,000 and $10 million in investable assets.

“I’m very excited,” he said in an interview. “In many ways, it’s like coming home.”

Bitterly worked for Merrill Lynch as an advisor starting in 1987 and moved into management in 1996, joining Merrill Lynch Investment Managers as head of global sales in 2002.

MLIM merged with BlackRock four years later and tapped him as the global head of its wealth management business, which included work with Bank of America-Merrill Lynch’s (BAC) more than 13,700 advisors. He retired from this role in October.

“It’s not that I was retiring,” he explained. “It was an intermission, so that I could figure out what I wanted to next that would be challenging.”

His day-to-day work entails implementation of the firm’s wealth and investment management process supported by its goal-oriented advice model, responsive client service, goals-based advisor teams and transparency regarding risk, fees and outcomes. (The program was started three years ago.)

“First and foremost, we aim for client to have a better and more consistent experience with Merrill Lynch. And second, we aim for advisors to adopt and embrace the process and philosophy of Client Experience and create teams, which have seen the highest productivity in the firm. This is in the best interest of the client and is most efficient for advisors,” he explained.

When asked about recent changes to advisors’ business cards, Bitterly declined to comment directly. “We have a great deal of pride around the Merrill Lynch legacy and our affiliation with Bank of America,” he said.

Bitterly now reports to Riley Etheridge, head of Client Segments and Advisor Development, and replaces Ted Durkin, who now serves as the complex director for Merrill Lynch’s Delaware Main Line operations.

“The Merrill Lynch Client Experience [program] is focused on a goals-based strategy,” he explained. “It begins and ends with clients and aims to codify what they want and expect from their financial advisors. Also, it arms advisors with a business model supported by cutting-edge technology and organization in teams.”

His own effectiveness, of course, is closely tied to what goes on in the field. “My success is dependent on that and I’ll foster that by working with field leadership and with advisors.”

As of March 31, financial advisor productivity, or yearly fees and commissions, at Merrill Lynch was $1.3 million per experienced advisor (advisors who have gone through a roughly 3.5-year practice development training program or were hired as experienced advisors).

Total advisor productivity, including those who haven’t finished the training program but excluding those in Consumer Business & Banking and with U.S. Trust, stood at roughly $1.06 million in the first quarter, up from $1.04 in the fourth quarter of 2013 and $971,000 in the first quarter of 2013. “As of March, 45% of our advisors had 50% or more of their client assets under a fee-based relationship,” the bank said in a statement.

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