headshot of Merrill exec Parikh Nilesh Merrill wants to “institutionalize what our best teams are doing,” Nilesh Parikh says.

Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch wealth group has launched an Elite Growth Practice program that it says aims to boost the performance of its financial advisors and their teams as clients’ expectations continue to rise.

EGP, in development for about two years, is intended to provide the firm’s more than 17,500 advisors with practice management insights from the industry’s top advisors, according to the company.

In a phone interview on Friday, Nilesh Parikh, Merrill’s Teaming and Practice Management Consulting Group executive, explained the details of the program, including the new diagnostic tools the firm has created for it.

Client Demands

“The industry is changing quite rapidly [and] our clients are asking for more and more,” including comprehensive advice, Parikh told ThinkAdvisor.

“The challenge is, as clients are asking for more, we need to figure out a way to scalably support our advisors and their teams,” he said, noting Merrill did a lot of client research and “also heard at the same time from advisors,” who said they “could really use a blueprint to figure out how to respond to all the changes in the industry.”

The company decided to find a way to “institutionalize what our best teams are doing” across the country, “codify it by spending time with that team, studying what they’re doing and then socializing it through a platform” like EGP, he explained.

Virtual EGP Playbook

A common theme Merrill heard from advisors managing teams was that they needed support to operate their evolving practices like CEOs, Parikh said.

To help teach that, Merrill developed the first key component of EGP: the Virtual EGP Playbook, a new suite of tools that went live May 26, he noted. Initial demand was strong, he said, telling ThinkAdvisor “we had close to 30,000 hits to the site” as of Friday, including about 7,000-8,000 unique users.

The playbook is “for everybody” among the firm’s advisors, he said.

New Career Paths, Titles

The second key component of EGP are new career paths and titles intended to ensure each advisory team is efficient and effective. Advisors are trained at every step, and the firm lets them know what steps they need to follow to reach the next step in their career destinations, Parikh said.

That process started June 8 and has so far entailed “robust discussions with individual employees to understand what they do every day and their career aspirations” to ensure they’re “put in the right role” at the firm, he said.

After that process ends for participants Aug. 31, he said, about 1,100 investment analysts and investment associates and analysts will be “moved into new roles that far better describe what they do and position them to learn from one another,” he added.

Learning Virtually With Peers

The third key component of EGP is a learning process that involves virtual and peer-to-peer components, Parikh noted.

Merrill will launch virtual learning communities in early September in which people with specialist roles on advisory teams will be brought together to learn from their peers, he said.

The firm started running local virtual workshops two weeks ago, he said, noting: “We’re running three waves of those workshops this year — 200 to 250 teams per wave.” The first wave is in process now and runs for six weeks, he said.

Criteria

The peer-to-peer learning communities will be open to all advisors throughout Merrill, Parikh said.

However, the workshops and one-on-one coaching will be open to a more limited number of Merrill advisors, he said. The workshops, for example, “might just be the top five teams from one market.”

Although the Virtual EGP Playbook “really has everything you would need for a smaller team,” he explained the workshops are designed for larger teams that are growing.

“For the most part — and we will make exceptions where it makes sense — two or more advisors” will be included in the workshops, and to be included, advisors must be “producing at least $1.5 million or $2 million,” he said.

The selection process for advisors taking part in one-on-one coaching will be more nuanced, he said, but didn’t provide specifics.

Merrill expects at least 700 of its advisor teams, including close to 2,000-plus advisors’ practices in all, will take part in EGP, he said.

Diversity

Asked how diversified EGP will be, Parikh said: “We always try to have the people in a program represent the makeup of the organization.”

Although he declined to provide any specific numbers or estimates for minority representation in the program, he told ThinkAdvisor: “We do make a special effort to support Black and African American advisors.”

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