Merrill Edge, the discount investment brokerage that Merrill Lynch rolled out last year to capture a share of the mass affluent market, is playing its part in parent company Bank of America’s effort to cross-sell consumer banking and investment services.
The company said today it is rolling out a new pricing program that provides incentives for customers to hold $50,000 or more in BofA deposit accounts or Merrill Edge investment balances. The program, called Platinum Privileges, provides preferred pricing on home loans and better rates of return on CDs and IRAs (maintaining a $25,000 cash or deposit balance in Merrill Edge self-directed accounts or with BofA banking accounts qualifies for 30 free online equity and ETF trades a month in Merrill Edge accounts.) The pricing was unveiled in Massachusetts, Georgia and Arizona last weekend; nationwide implementation is expected later this year.
Top BofA executives said today that the financial giant has finished its migration of accounts from throughout disparate channels—including Banc of America Investment Services self-directed accounts, and Merrill Lynch Direct and Merrill Lynch Financial Advisory Center investment accounts—onto its Merrill Edge platform. The move should help the bank’s effort to promote services to its 11 million mass affluent customers in its Consumer Banking segment, and the 500,000 in the Global Wealth and Investment Management segment that includes Merrill Lynch.
“Make no mistake about it,” GWIM President Sallie Krawcheck said during a conference call, “both Joe [Price, president of consumer and small business banking] and I are spending a significant chunk of our time on this, and are working in a strong partnership to make sure that we are bringing new capabilities to this important client base. … It’s early days, and we’re going to play around with this quite a bit to see what works.”
Sophie Schmitt, senior analyst at Aite Group in Boston, said today’s announcement helps brand Bank of America as a provider of solutions for the mass affluent, although there have been some integration challenges along the way. “Even though Merrill Edge has been around since June, they’re ironing out the kinks and getting processes in place,” she said. “If you called the center a couple of months ago, there were certain products that they just weren’t very knowledgeable about. Now if you call the center, the processes are a little bit more in place.”
Krawcheck said Merrill Lynch wants to exploit intergenerational business opportunities, namely the adult children of Merrill clients. Younger adults in particular struggle with investment choices. Company research says that nearly half of affluent clients want their children brought into wealth management decisions, she said. Merrill Edge, which is aimed at lower net worth investors, provides that portal. Krawcheck said the company wants “to be interacting with our Merrill Lynch financial advisors to provide the capability to these clients, so we can provide it through their clients to their kids.” About $10.8 trillion in wealth will be transferred over the next generation, she said.
Not everyone’s looking forward to it. In a survey of mass affluent investors, Merrill said that 45 percent of those polled believed they would never be wealthy. They believe they have less access to banking and investment advice and products than those with more wealth, and 63 percent say that saving for long-term goals will be harder five years from now than it is today. One reason why: 28 percent say they have tapped into long-term investments such as retirement accounts in order to meet short-term financial needs such as monthly bills, or for a major expense such as a home improvement. The desire to have help with financial issues is a common theme, Krawcheck said.