Following a soft rollout a couple weeks ago, Merrill Edge Guided Investing became available on Thursday to eligible investors across the country. The service that combines the online brokerage with advice from Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust was first announced in the fall.
Like Betterment, the robo advisory firm that recently began offering investors access to a human advisor, Merrill Edge Guided Investing accounts give customers resources once reserved for traditional broker relationships.
“What really differentiates [Guided Investing is] the investment portfolios designed and managed by the chief investment offices,” said David Poole, head of Merrill Edge Advisory and Client Services. “The best and brightest in the industry are there designing a set of 10 portfolios to meet clients needs. So across the offerings, this is a true differentiator.”
For an annual fee of 45 basis points on account assets, customers answer a series of questions about their investment timeline and risk tolerance. The service then recommends one of the 10 Guided Investing portfolios that are actively critiqued by investment professionals at the bank.
“When I refer to the human element, that really is the confidence that we bring to clients,” Poole said.
Merrill Edge had $145 billion in assets in the fourth quarter of 2016, up $22 billion from the end of 2015, and new accounts were up nine percent for the year. The online brokerage did not disclose the average Merrill Edge account balance or share specific expectations for the Guided Investing service.
However, the client appetite for a product combining robo advisory services and a component of human advice is strong, according to Poole.
“We enlisted our clients,” he said about the development of Guided Investing. “We wanted to make sure we were meeting a growing demand for professional portfolio management.”
Poole said an increasing number of clients are interested in being more hands-on in their investing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean foregoing some form of interaction with an advisor—be it through a portfolio they manage or sitting with one face-to-face.
Merrill Edge and the Guided Investing service are not just starting points for beginning investors. Many clients work with a Merrill Lynch advisor, but also have a Merrill Edge brokerage account, Poole said.
The minimum to open an account is $5,000.