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Merrill Lynch remains a constant loser in the world of wealth management recruiting. They’ve continued to retreat as rivals like Morgan Stanley, UBS, Wells Fargo, and the likes of Rockefeller and First Republic clean up. When was the last time you saw a meaningful Merrill Lynch recruiting headline announcing the arrival of a new team? Exactly.

So what seems to be the go forward to keep advisor headcount steady and sinking an additional 10-20% over the next few years? Simple, add as many Merrill Edge brokers as possible, reclassify BofA ‘in-branch’ advisors as Merrill Lynch, and create a new pathway for admin staff to become advisors themselves. At this point, Merrill Lynch has officially become the IBM of the wealth management game. Old, out of ideas, shrinking, but willing to play cheap parlor tricks to feign the illusion of growth.

What looks to be a new initiative to be announced in September, client service associates will be given a new pathway to moving from general admin positions to advisors filling the roles that their bosses do. Yes, welcome to 2020 Merrill Lynch. It seems that the era of ‘Mad Men’ may slowly finding its end at the thundering herd division of Bank of America. (commence eye roll).

There will be a set of qualifications for support staff to join the new ‘pathway’ at Merrill – candidates will have had to be at the firm for three years, be licensed with FINRA, and then complete a 9-12 month training course. We also expect 99% of these new candidates to either join the current team they are working with/for as opposed to starting from scratch. With that reality, is this really a pathway to becoming the next Barron’s 100 advisor? It feels more like a pathway to boosting ‘registered’ headcount that is capable of inputting orders when the big boss is out on vacation or playing golf. We are happy to be proven wrong, but until we hear of this program turning aspiring support staff into advisors in control of their own destiny at the firm, consider us skeptical.

Otherwise, the IBM and Merrill references will continue.

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