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Across the industry, last week’s headlines seemed to downplay next year’s changes to advisor comp at Merrill Lynch. From a stand-alone viewpoint, the articles themselves weren’t wrong or misguided – Bank of America made minimal adjustments to overall comp for advisors and teams that matter.

But that’s not the full story. What’s really happening at Merrill Lynch is wealth management version of ‘death by a thousand cuts’. A nick here, a cut there, a bruise over here, all of them spaced out year over year so as to not paint the picture of a beaten prizefighter the day after a career-changing knockout.

It isn’t a stretch to claim that Morgan Stanley is now the standard in the wealth management ‘wirehouse’ game. When did that happen? Two decades ago nearly anyone that mattered started and spent the first decade of their career at Merrill Lynch. Today, they are nothing more than a line item for Bank of America.

In context, annual changes to account size payouts, new bank product sales quotas, and bifurcated ‘who owns this account’ tiers across different divisions inside the Merrill brand (a reminder that it’s just ‘Merrill’ now, not Merrill Lynch, per BofA changes).

So annual changes to comp may be small and on the edges, in totality, the comp grid itself has been revolutionized over the past decade for the now limping ‘thundering herd’.

It makes you wonder, other than retirement induced malaise, why are large teams still at the firm? Expect another year of headlines littered with Merrill departures.

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