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Merrill Edge Exec: What New Technology Means for Clients

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Seven years after its launch, Merrill Edge has amassed over $165 billion in assets and 2.3 million accounts. The do-it-yourself investing platform was recently complemented by Merrill Edge Guided Investing (MEGI), the firm’s robo platform, which has a $5,000 account minimum.

While Merrill Lynch‘s wealth-management operations employ about 15,000 traditional financial advisors, Merrill Edge clients with $20,000 or more in an account have access to a separate group of 2,100 advisors with whom they can work in person and roughly 1,000 they can interact with via call centers.

Aron Levine — head of the business unit — answered the following questions via email about Merrill Edge and the strategy driving it:

Can you briefly describe the latest innovations involving both Merrill Edge and Merrill Edge Guided Investing and when they were made?

While we are continually enhancing our offering on Merrill Edge, our most significant innovation was the launch of Merrill Edge Guided Investing (MEGI), Merrill Edge’s online advisory platform.

We launched MEGI last February after 18 months of in-house development. MEGI is a new, intuitive online investing capability that combines expert insight with the convenience and flexibility of online portfolio management.

To use the platform, investors can create an account online with a minimum of $5,000. The process is simple: Investors set a goal, and based on time horizon and risk profile, receive an investment strategy designed by a team of Merrill Lynch investment experts. They are then presented with options to open and fund the account.

With MEGI, investors can pursue their financial and life goals, whether they have a little or a lot to invest. We’re excited about this offering and look forward to continuing to bring together advice and technology while creating stronger relationships with investors.

How do these innovations fit in with Merrill Lynch overall and its strategies?

At Bank of America and Merrill Edge, we are committed to making our clients’ financial lives better by connecting them to the right resources, services and solutions, on both the asset and liability sides of the balance sheet. Merrill Edge and MEGI enable us to better connect with clients online and in financial centers to provide the tools and solutions to meet both short- and long-term financial goals.

Merrill Edge combines the convenience of Bank of America banking solutions with the investment expertise of Merrill Lynch. Clients who prefer to manage their investments on their own have access to a full range of investments, easy-to-use tools and industry leading Merrill Lynch research.

For clients who want to work with an advisor, we have over 2,000 financial center-based advisors and well as phone-based advisors ready to support a client as they develop a plan to realize their life priorities.

Finally, for clients who are comfortable using a digital solution but still want access to managed portfolios, we offer MEGI. The strategies MEGI recommends are built and managed by the Global Wealth and Investment Management Chief Investment Office (GWIM CIO).

Where is Merrill Edge (launched in 2010) in terms of assets and client numbers? And how about the Guided Portfolios (launched in 2017)?

The firm currently has approximately $166 billion in assets and more than 2.3 million accounts. We’re excited to report since its launch, MEGI has been extremely well received in the marketplace. While we are not yet reporting assets and client data for MEGI, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and we have exceeded our expectations in terms of accounts and assets.

In addition to these assets and client numbers, we’re proud of the industry recognition we’ve received. Merrill Edge was recently named the top online broker by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in a tie for first place and the best online broker by NerdWallet’s annual online broker review. We also received recognition as one of the top online brokers by Barron’s, and the Customer Service Institute of America, which highlighted our focus on customer service, research and technology. 

What does Merrill Lynch see as the current client expectations for both Merrill Edge and Merrill Edge Guided Investing? 

We know from our Merrill Edge Report, a biannual look at the financial concerns and behaviors of mass affluent Americans, that investors embrace the idea of online investing.

Our spring report, released in May 2017, found one in eight Americans (13%) are currently using a robo-advisor or would consider using one in the next year. This figure jumps to 22% among millennials. Those who do use an online investing platform say it has a positive impact, making them feel more knowledgeable, empowered and savvy.

We also know our clients have different investment preferences and needs depending on where they are in life. This is why we continue to provide flexible, innovative offerings that help our clients safely and seamlessly pursue their financial goals.

In addition to MEGI, we offer our Online Investing and Trading Platform that provides digital tools and research to help clients make their own investment decisions.

For clients who want an investment plan tailored to their needs, we offer Merrill Edge Select Portfolios, where clients work with a financial solutions advisor to help define and develop an investment plan to pursue their financial goals. And for clients who have more complex needs, they may choose to work with a Merrill Lynch or U.S. Trust financial advisor to create a financial plan tailored to their needs.

How mobile are these offerings?

As more investors live their lives on the go, we know it’s important for clients to have accessibility to new planning tools that can help them track account activity, monitor markets, place trades and interact with portfolio data through an intuitive experience.

We recently announced a comprehensive redesign of our Merrill Edge mobile app to help investors personalize their mobile experience and make informed investment and planning decisions from their iPhone or Android devices.

With this redesign, our clients benefit from better navigation, dynamic help capabilities and heat maps showing key investment trends, as well as interactive charts and streamlined investing capabilities.

Our mobile investing platform is the only platform that can send relevant, personalized market data and event notifications to clients based on their holdings and the securities they are following.

And how is Merrill moving to meeting any new client expectations over the next year or two?

Our organization is continuously evolving to align directly with our clients’ growing needs and is keenly focused on helping clients frame and meet their financial goals. We’re also committed to bringing together advice and technology to create stronger relationships with investors.

One of the key client demands is the ability to make an appointment online or through mobile devices to meet with a financial solutions advisor either in person or by phone. We continue to invest in adding advisors to our financial centers to support our clients.

How do advisors integrate these offerings into their practice if they are with Merrill Lynch Consumer Banking or Merrill Lynch Wealth Management?

Merrill Edge advisors work as part of a team of specialists within Bank of America financial centers to help make clients’ financial lives better. Our advisors are invaluable when it comes to understanding clients’ needs, building a customized strategy and keeping clients on track with their goals as their lives and the market changes.

Clients who are interested can open a MEGI account even if they already have a relationship with Bank of America, Merrill Lynch or Merrill Edge. They can talk to their advisor about their online investing options and can determine their financial goals together.

Merrill Lynch Wealth Management advisors are always looking for ways to best serve their clients and leverage Merrill Edge and MEGI for clients seeking a digital solution as part of their overall relationship.

How does innovation happen at Merrill Edge? Is it led by a particular group or committee?

We have a customer-focused approach to innovation. We regularly conduct surveys and convene focus groups to communicate with customers one on one and to better understand what they want and need, and innovate based upon those needs. We also benefit from direct feedback between clients and our nearly 3,000 advisors.

All of this feedback is provided to a team dedicated to the ongoing development of the Merrill Edge platform and capabilities.

What our customers told us is clear: Help make investing easier and allow us to work with you in the manner in which we are most comfortable. Provide the tools and research for us to self-direct or give us advice and guidance when and how we need.

What next steps is Merrill Edge thinking about in terms of automation, artificial intelligence and the like for the next five years or so?

Bank of America continues to invest heavily to drive innovation to improve the customer experience. This effort includes leading the industry in developments in the emerging payments and artificial intelligence spaces by forging partnerships with technology companies, academics and Silicon Valley leaders to better anticipate our customers’ ever-changing needs and expectations.

Most recently, Bank of America was one of the first banks to incorporate the benefits and features of the Zelle experience, a revolutionary new P2P service, within its mobile banking app. Zelle provides consumers a faster, easier way to send and receive payments in minutes without leaving the security of their own financial institution.

Last October, we announced plans to launch new technology in 2017 that will transform the customer experience. Her name is Erica, a voice and chat-driven intelligent virtual assistant that will be integrated throughout the customer experience to help improve the financial lives of customers.

We know our customers want to bank wherever and whenever they want, so Erica will be on call 24/7 to execute day-to-day transactions.

As we continue to develop Erica over time, she’ll provide even more proactive guidance to anticipate customers’ financial needs to help them stay on track and reach their financial goals on their terms. This functionality will be available to Bank of America customers later this year.  Given the close integration between Bank of America and Merrill Edge, all clients benefit from these innovations.

Are there any more thoughts on Merrill Edge Guided Investing that you would like to share?

First, we are very proud of the fact we were awarded the 2017 Best in Client Service by In the end, everything we do is about how we best serve our clients. We will continue to invest in the platform and technology capability, but the foundation is being the best at serving our clients.

Additionally, what truly separates MEGI is that investment decisions and portfolio management are done by the Merrill Lynch Chief Investment Office. As a result, for a $5,000 minimum investment and 0.45% fee, MEGI clients have access to industry-leading portfolio management. We believe we are truly delivering the best of digital capabilities and human expertise.

— Check out Merrill’s Big Tech Push to Reshape Client Interaction on ThinkAdvisor.