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BofA Wealth Unit Tops $3T in Assets; Merrill Headcount Falls: Q4 Earnings

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There was a lot of good news and few bumps in the latest full-year and quarterly results of Bank of America’s wealth management unit, which includes Merrill Lynch and its Private Bank.

Total client balances jumped 16% from last year to $3 trillion. The unit’s net income improved 7% from 2018 to nearly $4.3 billion for 2019 on a 0.4% increase in revenues, which were $19.5 billion.

But the number of Merrill Lynch financial advisors fell by 201 from the prior quarter to 17,458 and dropped 60 from a year ago. The broader wealth advisor headcount declined 189 from the earlier quarter and 19 from the prior year to 19,440 as of Dec. 31, 2019. 

The full wealth group, though, had a pretax margin of 29% as average deposits and loans grew roughly 5% in 2019. And the number of referrals to and from the unit from other parts of the bank expanded 25% from 2018.

Merrill advisors’ average 12-month fees and commissions were $1.108 million in Q4’19, up from $1.096 million in Q3’19 and $1.046 million in Q4’18. Veteran FAs, though, had average productivity of $1.43 million as of Q4’19, up close to 6% from a year ago.

Overall, Bank of America profits for the fourth quarter of 2019 were $7 billion, down 4% from a year ago. Earnings per share of $0.74, though, rose 6% and beat analysts’ estimates. Revenues, however, weakened 1% year over to $22.5 billion.

“In a steadily growing economy marked by solid client activity, our teammates produced another strong quarter and year, allowing us to increase investments in our customers, communities, and employees,” CEO Brian Moynihan said in a statement.