Merrill Lynch is looking for a few good brokers within its ranks to focus entirely on the firm's ultra-affluent investors--households with $10 million or more to invest.
Merrill executives want to expand the firm’s Wealth Management Services Group (WMSG) from its current level of 125 retail brokers to about 300 to 500 reps over the next several years, according to WMSG Executive Director Doris Meister.
At the firm's headquarters in New York City Thursday morning, Meister told reporters at a "bull session" gathering that WMSG brokers are typically FCs who are members of a team or partnership inside a branch office, are adept at taking advantage of resources Merrill Lynch offers its ultrawealthy clients, and have undergone a "rigorous accreditation program" offered by the firm.
Merrill has beefed up the training it offers for brokers interested in moving to the WMSG, the firm says. It will eventually offer an internal designation to brokers who complete the training, which includes courses on estate planning, trusts, philanthropic services, derivatives and concentrated stock strategies.
WMSG brokers don't have to become experts on these topics, Meister said. They just have to recognize opportunities and steer clients toward Merrill's internal experts.
In fact, in New York last October, Merrill formed a five-person support group called the Concentrated Stock Strategies Team to support clients with more than $25 million worth of a single stock. Usually, these investors hold large quantities of stock in a company they've worked for or taken public, Meister said.
The ultrawealthy market is not huge, but it is growing: There are more than 350,000 households in the United States with $10 million in assets to invest, and that number is increasing at about 9% annually, according to Meister. More and more, these investors are young, still working and more interested in the "intellectual capital" a broker brings to the table than the pampering that attracts older money, Meister said.
Merrill has already announced plans to open an office in Century City, Calif., staffed by WMSG brokers and devoted exclusively to decamillionaires. "We see the potential for that in other cities where there is that density of wealth," Meister told RR at the press gathering.
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