Merrill Lynch's long-awaited revamping of its desktop workstations will finally hit advisor desks at the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the firm is actively recruiting again, though the number of jobs added in the hiring push is unlikely to equal the number Merrill shed over the course of the year.
The newly-christened Wealth Management Workstations will be rolling out to select branches in a December pilot program, and will start hitting other branches in the early part of 2004, according to Bob Mulholland, head of Merrill Lynch's global private client group in the U.S.
“The whole platform is built around the workflow of an FA,” he says. “In the past, you had to go in and out of different screens, and the hardware was relatively slow.”
Merrill outsourced most of the design and production of these workstations to Thomson Financial, after a competitive bidding process near the end of 2002. The company's old workstations had been in-house products.
The new workstations feature upgraded contact management, data mining, financial planning, client profiling and asset-allocation modeling tools.
“We believe that the money we're going to spend — and it's going to be about $1 billion over five years — will be more than paid back,” Mulholland says.
Meanwhile, the firm, which has been more aggressive about retaining its best advisors, according to recruiters, is looking to expand more broadly once again.
“We've consciously made a turn here, and we've started rolling out to offices that we're back into hiring,” Mulholland says. “We'll be up from at least June of this year to the end of this year.”
As of the third quarter of 2003, Merrill had 13,400 financial advisors, down from about 14,000 at the end of 2002. It grew its number of advisors for the first time in 11 quarters.