As investment gurus like Jeremy Grantham warn of a “true, crazy mini-bubble” in the Bitcoin market, the wirehouse firms are telling advisors and investors that products related to this cryptocurrency are not being sold on their platforms.
Merrill Lynch moved to end client purchases of the Grayscale Bitcoin Investment Trust on Dec. 8, for instance. It also does not allow advisors and clients to trade Bitcoin futures, which began trading Dec. 10.
“The decision to close GBTC to new purchases is driven by concerns pertaining to suitability and eligibility standards of this product,” the firm said at the time in a memo. (Clients who invested in the Bitcoin fund before Dec. 8 can, however, keep these assets in brokerage accounts.)
As for Morgan Stanley, “Our financial advisors currently do not offer our Wealth Management clients access to securities or derivatives linked to the price of Bitcoin or other digital currencies,” according to a spokesperson.
While UBS Americas declined to comment on the record, sources familiar with the firm say that it is not facilitating any access to Bitcoin or related products — including futures — as it does not consider the cryptocurrency an asset class.
“While cryptocurrencies have a number of advantages over mainstream currencies, the chief investment office of [UBS] Americas-Wealth Management is doubtful that they will ever become a mainstream means of exchange, and thinks the sharp rise in cryptocurrency valuations in recent months is a speculative bubble,” according to an October 2017 report.
Wells Fargo Advisors does not allow trading in Bitcoin futures or the Grayscale trust, according to a spokesperson.
Merrill Lynch said in mid-January that it will let its nearly 15,000 financial advisors text clients and is rolling out the tech tools to make that happen over the next few weeks. The wirehouse is partnering with CellTrust, which will time- and date-stamp, track, log and archive the messages. Advisors will be able to share text messages with clients on Android and Apple devices and via a web interface.
The news comes about seven months after rival Morgan Stanley made a similar announcement about the launch of its texting program, which it is working on with Twilio; it says the texting capabilities are now available to all FAs.
“Texting is just our latest investment in building our state-of-the-art digital capabilities — so that we can serve our clients when, where and how they want,” said Andy Sieg, head of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, in a statement in mid-January.
“It’s one more step toward making the full advantages of our combined Bank of America and Merrill Lynch platform of products and services easily accessible,” Sieg added.
Merrill Lynch’s Thundering Herd of advisors stood at 14,954 on Sept. 30 vs. 15,759 at Morgan Stanley. Merrill advisors had average fees and commissions of $994,000 per advisor (including new and veteran FAs); veteran FAs’ averaged $1.30 million. Morgan Stanley’s average production was $1.07 million for all registered reps.
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As part of its announcement, Merrill Lynch says advisors’ “texting option” is being launched along with “advanced advisor websites, a mobile client relationship management application, integrated social media capabilities and a revamped content sharing platform.”
For the past year, advisors have been able to customize and update their websites as needed. The firm says that more than 8,000 sites have been launched since January 2017. In addition, the websites are connected to advisors’ LinkedIn profiles.
Merrill Lynch recently added a LinkedIn Finder to its client website to help prospects more easily find advisors via common connections. The Merrill Lynch Advisor eCommunications Center also is integrated into Salesforce; Salesforce Mobile was launched in 2017.
As for client-facing platforms, the firm says investors’ use of the MyMerrill mobile app, rolled out in late 2016, “continues to see dramatic growth.”
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Raymond James says its employee channel now has a Tampa Bay complex in Florida, which will be led by Doug Brigman and support the growth strategies of some 100 financial advisors in the area.
Brigman, who joined the firm in 2008, most recently served as head of Fiduciary Services, coordinating the firm’s response and compliance with the Department of Labor fiduciary rule. He also led the Raymond James’ Cash and Lending Solutions group served as director of Private Client Group (PCG) Planning and Strategy.
“Raymond James has always enjoyed a strong presence locally, particularly given the proximity and access to the firm’s international headquarters” in St. Petersburg, said Patrick O’Connor, the Florida regional director for Raymond James & Associates, in a statement.
“In positioning our area for further long-term growth, we recognized a unique incremental opportunity to unite the branches as a complex,” O’Connor explained. Having led a variety of strategic initiatives for the firm as a senior leader, Doug is a natural fit for this new leadership role.”
While Raymond James’ operations include 7,346 advisors and $718 billion in client assets; 3,041 of those are employees (as of Sept. 30).
“With the support of headquarters in our own backyard, I look forward to leveraging my experience to serve our local financial advisors, as they adapt to industry trends, grow their businesses and help clients achieve their financial goals,” Brigman said in a statement.
LPL Financial has released more details on 71 advisor groups joining it recently following its purchase of the National Planning Holdings’ broker-dealer assets in August.
The latest announcement included firms with between $100 million and $499 million in client brokerage and advisory assets and previously affiliated with Investment Centers of America and National Planning Corp. Thus, the latest additions are expected to bring a total of between $7.1 billion and $35.4 billion in assets onto LPL’s platforms.
In late December, LPL also said that Northwest Bank is now using its broker-dealer and corporate registered investment advisory platforms. Its advisors served about $1.3 billion of client brokerage and advisory assets as of Oct. 4.