Merrill Lynch Wealth Management further expanded its growing number of digital platforms with Socialize, a new “intelligent content sharing platform” that it launched in early July for iPhones and iPads, as well as desktop computers, according to Kabir Sethi, managing director of the company’s Global Wealth & Investment Management division and head of Digital Wealth Management.
About 150 Merrill Lynch advisors are using Socialize now, “but we’re going to ramp up the number quickly,” he told ThinkAdvisor on Friday. Like any digital platform the company launches, it’s starting with just a small group of its advisors initially before rolling it out more widely.
The company has also expanded it to Android devices, he said. “In the next few months, this will get to everyone,” he said, referring to the firm’s 15,000 or so advisors.
Socialize addresses the need of advisors to share content across multiple devices, he said, explaining advisors can select what topics of interest they have and what kind of content they want to see — such as machine learning, retirement or tax reform — and “then you get served up articles” that fit those areas of interest. Advisors can then press a button to share the content with other LinkedIn users, he said. Advisors can also schedule posts to be sent at specific times, he said.
Using a form of artificial intelligence, the platform then, “over time … gives you analytics around clicks and views for each article and, based on how people are viewing articles and which ones are more popular, the system automatically adjusts your topics of interest” to figure out what content to serve the user, he explained.
Another “intelligent platform,” Advisor Insights, was launched by the company for desktop computers in November 2018, it said. The company is using that platform to provide Merrill Lynch advisors with a wide range of insights into their clients that will enable advisors to better serve those clients, Sethi explained, noting the company will probably expand it to Android and iOS mobile devices next year, Sethi told us. Advisor Insights is also using a form of AI to provide those insights and then expand upon those insights over time, while figuring out what kinds of advice to stop providing in the future due to lack of interest, he said, adding it’s currently sharing about 1,100-1,200 individual insights a day to all its advisors.
The company’s clients, meanwhile, are increasingly adopting the company’s Merrill Lynch mobile trading and investing app and online digital platforms across all age groups. Among its advisors’ clients 70 and older, use of digital platforms is up 38% year-over-year, Sethi said, adding digital platform usage is up 49% among those under 40, 28% for those 40 to 49, 25% for those 50 to 59 and 25% for those 60 to 69.
Since the June launch of Merrill Guided Investing with an advisor, a new offering in which advice and guidance is delivered to clients through a Merrill Financial Solutions Advisor (FSA) and an enhanced digital platform, there’s been a 45% increase in weekly new advised relationships, according to the company.
What’s likely helped accomplish that is the company has attempted to make its digital platforms as simple and intuitive as possible for people to use and also that it’s making sure to communicate aggressively, it said.
There is a cost component to the digital initiatives because technology can reduce costs, but it’s also seeing much higher engagement as a result of clients going digital, the company said. Digital clients tend to have stronger engagement and relationships with the company’s advisors, it said.
The digital investments being made by Merrill Lynch Wealth Management are part of the $3 billion that parent company Bank of America said it’s spending this year on new technology overall.