Starting in August, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch (BAC) said, its advisor trainees would have the option of joining a team as a specialist and finishing the training program in about two and a half years, versus the traditional three and a half years.
The aim is to support advisors with succession planning and build “the bridges necessary for the next generation of advisors to continue to deliver the experience our clients expect and deserve,” according to a memo shared with advisors.
The trainees could choose to focus on business development, financial planning, investments and financing, relationship management or business management.
How would this affect the Thundering Herd of 13,845 reps?
“It looks like a move to facilitate the growth of teams, which many firms feel enables advisors to provide a better client experience and makes advisors less likely to move,” said Mark Elzweig, an executive search consultant, in an interview. “The downside for advisors is that whenever multiple in-house specialists regularly touch client accounts, clients can be harder to move.”
In other words, Merrill’s new push to have trainees join teams as specialists adds to the “stickiness” of both clients and advisors, who may be exposed to a growing array of Bank of America products and services, but will have a harder time jumping ship.
Of course, Mother Merrill doesn’t see it that way. “Developing the next generation of advisors and supporting the growth of teams are critical factors in our ability to deliver on our goals-based wealth management strategy today and in the future,” the firm said in a statement.
Each year, Merrill brings in 1,500 to 1,700 advisor trainees for its Practice Management Development program, which was launched in 1946. It currently has about 3,100 at various stages of the program. Going forward, those who have been in the program for up to nine months are eligible to apply to join the new Team Financial Advisor specialty training.
Some industry experts suggest that Merrill is looking out for its interests, as well as those of its parent company.
It started the rollout of its Merrill Lynch One platform, which unifies several account platforms, about a year ago, they point out. And the new trainee option, like Merrill One, provides more links between wirehouse clients and Bank of America.
While these steps may not be locking assets, clients and advisors down forever, of course, the new advisor technology and training programs seem to be making a “sticky” situation even stickier.