Merrill Lynch has launched an initiative aimed at attracting the most affluent households.
According to spokesperson Jim Wiggins, Merrill will unveil in the "near future" a new branch in Century City, Calif., devoted exclusively to ultra-high-net-worth clients. These people are defined as those with at least $10 million to invest.
"We'll assess that experience and determine if and where to expand it," Wiggins says.
Stanley O'Neal, Merrill's private client group president, first mentioned the possibility of upscale offices during a September speech to analysts in New York.
The test location will be separate from Merrill's existing retail branch in Century City, a tony section of Los Angeles. A branch manager at a competing wirehouse in Century City says he welcomes the competition. But a Merrill Lynch producer in Century City doesn't like it.
"How are we possibly going to have the luster of that upscale office?" he asks. "When it becomes public knowledge that this office is opening, it will be like Toyota competing against Lexus."
Merrill has also launched a training program for brokers serving decamillionaires.
The firm will offer instruction on the "appropriate business skills and appropriate business models needed by brokers who want to do business exclusively in that market," Wiggins says.
One Midwest producer who has received some of the training says it covers stock options, caps and collars, high-end estate planning and private placements. He describes the training as "awesome."
The instruction is offered as continuing education without any completion standards or graduation requirements. Roughly 100 broker teams have already received some training.
In a September speech, Stanley O'Neal, president of Merrill Lynch's private client group, said the firm plans to encourage the formation of more broker teams as a tool to attract households with $1 million or more.
In 1999, 22% of Merrill brokers were members of a team, but those brokers accounted for 44% of client assets, O'Neal said.
One Merrill broker attributes the higher production to the fact that older, more experienced brokers are more likely to form teams than their less experienced counterparts.
Spokesperson Jim Wiggins tells RR that the firm intends to provide branch managers with more training on team dynamics and the factors that contribute to successful teams.