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Industry Spotlight > Wirehouse Firms

Merrill Reports Positive Feedback on New MAX App

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What You Need to Know

  • Merrill's new mobile advisor experience (MAX) app launched in late September after a pilot test for a few hundred advisors.
  • The app is part of the firm's continuing digital transformation and stands to ease advisors' return to offices.
  • Enhancements are already planned, with some coming as soon as November.

Initial advisor feedback to the new mobile advisor experience (MAX) app that Merrill Lynch launched late last month has been strong, with advisors pointing to its convenience and their ability to use it to quickly pull up client insights as major positives.

A pilot with a few hundred users started about a month before the MAX launch, according to Kabir Sethi, managing director and head of digital wealth management at Merrill.

The app provides much of the same client information that advisors could previously get only from their desktop dashboards on their iPhones and iPads. While it stands to make advisors’ transitions back to their offices from working at home easier, Sethi told ThinkAdvisor in a recent interview that the wirehouse would have launched the app even without the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is something we’ve been working on” that is a “part of our overall digital transformation” as Merrill and parent Bank of America continues to enhance the “wealth client and advisory experience,” Sethi said.

That digital transformation had already included the new Merrill Personal Wealth Analysis planning platform introduced last year, its collaborative onboarding experience and new Client Engagement Workstation, he said.

One especially promising sign from the pilot was that much of the initial feedback pertained to enhancements already planned for November, “so it’s stuff that’s in the pipeline already,” according to Michael Lestina, digital channel executive at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, who also demonstrated MAX for ThinkAdvisor.

One example was a request that advisors be able to access their internal production metrics with the app, Lestina said, noting that feature will be added in November.

Easing the Return to the Office

MAX makes the “most integral parts of the workstation available within this very secure device,” according to Aleeza Singh, a senior financial advisor at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management who is based in Davenport, Iowa.

Singh was part of the MAX pilot test that started over a month ago, but “just in the last couple of weeks … I’ve been really ramping up my utilization of it, especially as my life kind of gets back to normal a bit,” she said in a phone interview on Thursday. “The more I use it, the more I’m a little addicted to the experience,” she said, adding that she “opened it about three or four times” that day.

After “working from home for about a year and a half,” she is now getting back to life as usual, like her clients, she said.

“Everyone’s moving around a lot more. I am out of pocket a lot more now, as are my clients. So the nice thing about it is it’s just something I can pick up when a client calls me with a specific inquiry” or something she doesn’t want to go to her desktop workstation for. “I can flip it open” and “quickly get the information and pass that onto the client,” she said.

MAX allows her to quickly link to other digital tools she uses, makes it easier to call clients on their birthdays, and isn’t “clunky” like mobile apps that have previously been used in the industry, she added.

Accessing Info Wherever Advisors Are

“The question we were trying to answer” with the new mobile app was “how do we give advisors the ability to access information and give them access to functionality wherever they are,” according to Sethi.

Merrill is also trying to meet advisor demand for a more personalized experience in which “they can customize the way they want to look at information, what they want to look at [and] how they want to look at it,” he explained.

MAX combines a lot of information that advisors want to see about their clients, along with the ability to access their other apps, and also provides Salesforce integration so advisors can create notes while engaging with clients.

“At some point, we’ll get into things like video collaboration and voice integration,” Sethi said.

Merrill already used Bank of America’s artificial intelligence-driven Erica virtual voice assistant in the Digital Wealth Overview tool that was launched earlier this year and includes personalized videos for each client.

Using MAX, digital presentations can be shared with up to seven other iOS mobile devices, according to the company.

In the demonstration, Lestina noted that advisors can use MAX to call, email or text a client and send a secure message to their My Merrill mobile app.

“We’re looking at enabling videoconferencing between the two apps and allowing us to be able to have a FaceTime call that would be secure as well. That will be coming in the future,” he said.

MAX also features client insights so that advisors can see a potential gap that a client has across their Bank of America Merrill portfolio.

A client may call an advisor who can now look up client details on their iPhones, and “I’ve got a conversation topic to bring up with them right then and there,” Lestina said. “It’s just really helpful to help that.”

The client may be missing an IRA beneficiary or be eligible for a required minimum distribution, and client insights will point that out to the advisor, Sethi said. This feature serves not so much as a sales tool than as a tool to provide “what’s the right thing to discuss with the client at the right time,” he said.

No Android Support

Merrill found that Apple’s iOS mobile operating system was much more compatible with the firm’s existing systems than Android’s, so it is now providing MAX only to advisors’ corporate iPhones, Lestina told ThinkAdvisor.

Merrill would, however, be open to adding Android compatibility if there is significant demand for it, according to Sethi.

“It’s a secure environment,” Sethi said. “This would be a lot more complicated to do on a personal phone just because of the sensitivity of information.”


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