Bank of America’s Merrill Edge investing platform, which includes discount brokerage services, managed investment portfolios and access to financial advisors, laid out significant expansion plans on Thursday.
Merrill Edge, which has garnered more than 2.4 million accounts and $184.5 billion in assets since its 2010 launch, expects to hire 300 Financial Solutions Advisors this year. That would bring the total number to 4,000.
Unlike Merrill Lynch brokers, Merrill Edge advisors are based in brick-and-mortar Bank of America retail branches and receive a salary and a bonus. Some Merrill Edge advisors are also available via a phone call or video conference.
Growth of the Merrill Edge advisor network already outpaces Merrill Lynch. Out of the roughly 333 news advisors who joined Bank of America’s wealth management businesses in 2017, more than 200 joined Merrill Edge. The others were hired by the traditional brokerage or U.S. Trust. However, the Merrill Lynch network of 19,238 advisors is substantially larger than that of Merrill Edge and its assets under management of approximately $1.1 trillion dwarfs the total of the digital-first platform.
In addition to the new hires, Merrill Edge also plans to open 600 investment centers in Bank of America branches before 2020, bringing the total to 2,800. If it meets that goal, more than half of the bank’s 4,500 branches would have a Merrill Edge investment center.
Some concerns were raised years ago that the creation of Merrill Edge would cannibalize the traditional Merrill Lynch brokerage business but those fears never materialized. In fact, Merrill Edge, like similar services, has filled a gap for clients with too little investable assets to work with a traditional advisor.
Aron Levine, the head of Merrill Edge, said the goal is to serve clients in a way most convenient to them and having both brick-and-mortar and digital options does that. Coupling the wealth management services with Bank of America’s retail banking also gives it a competitive advantage, a spokeswoman said via email.