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BofA Adds 38 Advisors to Merrill Edge

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Bank of America (BAC) said late Tuesday that it has hired 38 Merrill Edge advisors serving mass-affluent clients in and around Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. The hiring is part of BofA-Merrill’s plan to nearly double the number of Financial Solutions Advisors to 1,000-plus by year-end.

The first advisors hired under the plan in October 2009 were placed in BofA branches as part of a pilot project for Bank of America-Merrill in Boston, Chicago and Seattle, according Tony Burns, Merrill Edge Mid-Atlantic regional sales manager. The advisors generally have Series 7 and Series 66 licenses. Merrill Edge was officially introduced nationwide in the summer of 2010.

tony burns“Now we are putting more Financial Solutions Advisors into our banking centers in areas like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York,” Burns (left) said in an interview with AdvisorOne on Wednesday, “and we are seeing great results.”

Merrill’s objective is to offer more products and services to some 8 million BofA mass-affluent clients, also referred to as “preferred customers,” with investable assets of $50,000 to $250,000.

According to a Merrill Edge Report, some of the top priorities for these clients include wanting a better retirement than their parents (85%), having access to both banking and investing solutions (73%) and maintaining the ability to track and manage their money (72%).

Merrill Edge mass-affluent clients can use the self-directed online platform, work by phone with about 500 advisors based in three call centers (located in Arizona, Florida and New Jersey) or interact in person with the FSA now being added to BofA branches nationwide, explains Burns. High-net-worth clients seeking advice in the bank branches are referred to Merrill Lynch financial advisors, he adds, who are led by Sallie Krawcheck.

“These are designed to be complimentary not competitive operations,” the executive said. “Serving some 8 million preferred clients with more products and services represents a big opportunity for us.”

The Advisors

Many Merrill Edge advisors are being hired by BofA after they’ve completed training programs at Merrill Lynch, other wirehouse firms and other banks, Burns says.

“We’re finding lots of incredibly talented candidates who are looking for work in a tumultuous economy,” he explained. “Some have simply not been able to accumulate the level of assets they’ve hoped to” before joining Merrill Edge, given the current economic and investment climate.

“We are finding great talent from within the company and from outside of it,” Burns said.

Merrill Edge has hired about 200 in-bank advisors and plans to have 500 in place by the end of 2011, in addition to the 500 advisors now based in its three call centers. “We will continue to grow nationwide,” the executive explained, with expansion in Florida, Atlanta and other areas expected to occur in the near term.

In contrast to traditional high-net-worth Merrill Lynch advisors, Merrill Edge advisors are generally compensated via fixed salaries and monthly bonuses rather than with fees and commissions.

And, even with the volatile markets, assets in this mass-affluent channel are growing. They totaled about $69 billion in June vs. $66.7 billion in March compared to $51 billion a year ago. “We are seeing growth here,” Burns said.

Other Plans

To support this growth strategy, Bank of America says it has added access to investment, small business and mortgage specialists and the use of technology, such as video conferencing, in five bank branches the Washington, D.C., area.

It introduced applications for the iPad, iPhone and BlackBerry earlier this year, along with 481 new no-transaction-fee (NTF) mutual funds. Other plans include hiring 1,000 small-business bankers in local communities.

“Together with the 1,000 FSAs, this will create a 2,000-plus person team dedicated to the more complex needs of preferred and small business customers,” Bank of America said in a press release.