The evolution of Merrill Lynch continued full steam ahead in 2001. And many Merrill brokers say they love being out in front of the pack with changes.
“I think Merrill Lynch is usually on the cutting edge, ahead of change and always anticipates which way things are going to go,” says one enthusiastic broker. “It's proactive rather than reactive.”
In particular, reps are buying into the firm's long-term focus on reaching high-net-worth clients, capturing recurring revenues and increasing broker professionalism through a revamped training program centered on financial planning skills. The firm's strong corporate image was its saving grace in a tumultuous market, they say.
But for some reps, the jury is still out on Merrill's new management team. “These people are from outside our industry,” says one broker. “The people taking over leadership of the company have never been in the trenches. … And I think that's a mistake.”
Merrill Lynch management was ahead of the Street when it started cutting expenses and implementing hiring freezes several years ago. But brokers complain they're still feeling the pinch. “With so many cutbacks, it's not even worth calling people in the back office because most of the time they don't know anything,” gripes one producer.
Other beefs include major kinks in the firm's Trusted Global Advisor (TGA) workstation, which is too bloated. “If we're weak in anything, it is technology,” one respondent says. Adds another, “Merrill spent $1 billion on the TGA platform, and it's too embarrassed to say the Web platform would work better.”
And as they have in the past, Merrill brokers complain that the firm is inflexible and overly concerned about compliance. “I think we're a little too regimented,” one producer says.
But the firm has the big picture in focus. “I think Merrill Lynch has a real good grasp of the wealth management business and a good strategic plan,” concludes a respondent.
|Firm Score||Average: All Firms|
|Freedom from pressure to sell certain products||8.54||9.23|
|Realistic sales quotas||8.44||8.65|
|The firm's hiring and recruiting practices||7.88||7.66|
|Quality of sales assistants||8.22||7.87|
|Quantity of sales assistants||7.08||7.20|
|Quality of sales ideas||7.80||7.82|
|The quote and information system||8.24||8.70|
|Quality of the firm's operations||8.38||7.96|
|Quality of the firm's research||8.10||7.54|
|The firm's fixed-income pricing||7.50||7.77|
|Quality of the products offered||8.92||8.64|
|Your branch manager||8.48||8.31|
|The firm's strategic focus||8.62||8.25|
|Overall ethics of the firm||9.64||9.31|
|The firm's image with the public||9.10||8.54|