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UHNW Merrill Customers Could Get Bitcoin ETF Access Today

A spokesperson said Bank of America was wrapping up its evaluation of the new offerings that were approved earlier this week by the SEC. The news comes the same day the bank unveiled its fourth quarter of 2023 earnings report.

Bank of America plans to allow certain Merrill customers access to Bitcoin ETFs by the end of the day Friday, according to a company spokesperson.

The Merrill spokesperson said the bank was currently wrapping up its evaluation of the new offerings, which were approved for trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday. 

The spot Bitcoin ETFs will be available to “eligible” clients, referring to ultra-high-net-worth customers with $10 million in assets, according to the spokesperson. 

The SEC approved the 11 proposals for spot Bitcoin ETFs on “an accelerated basis” this week when facing a deadline on whether to OK one of the funds. In a statement, SEC Chair Gary Gensler stressed the commission’s decision was not an endorsement of Bitcoin, and “should in no way signal the commission’s willingness to approve listing standards for crypto asset securities.”

Vanguard already made it clear that spot Bitcoin ETFs would not be available on its platform, with a spokesperson saying the firm has “no plans” to offer Vanguard Bitcoin ETFs or other crypto-related products, according to Bloomberg. The ETFs are available to trade on Schwab's platforms and UBS said it was offering some of the ETFs to wealth clients with brokerage accounts who approached advisors without being solicited.

Wells Fargo is also moving to provide access to the spot Bitcoin ETFs, with a firm spokesperson saying they are "available for unsolicited purchases through an advisor with Wells Fargo Advisors" or via the firm's online WellsTrade platform.

Merrill’s move comes the same day Bank of America released its fourth quarter 2023 earnings report. In fiscal year 2023, Merrill Wealth revenue was down year-over-year by 3%, which the firm attributed to lower net interest income and “market levels.” 

But Merrill had a record year of approximately 40,000 net new relationships, breaking 2019’s record of around 35,000. Merrill’s advisor headcount grew by 125, while there was a 2% drop year-over-year and a 1% drop quarter-over-quarter in advisors serving clients “across (the) wealth continuum” (including Merrill Wealth, Private Bank and Consumer Investments). 

In a call detailing the earnings, Merrill Wealth Co-Head Eric Schimpf said the total advisor decline across BofA was mainly due to “greater efficiencies,” which he stressed did not mean layoffs.

“That population has gotten more effective,” he said. ‘With increased digital usage by themselves and clients, that part of our business has just become more efficient.”

Schimpf would not offer a quarterly percentage for advisor attrition within the firm, but said the rate was “right around historical averages.”

Wells Fargo also released its fourth quarter earnings today, with total revenue in the wealth division down 1% both year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter. Net interest income dipped 19% compared to a year ago due to “lower deposit balances as customers reallocated cash into higher yielding alternatives, as well as lower loan balances,” which was partially buoyed by higher interest rates. Expenses were up 11% from a year ago in part due to “higher revenue-related compensation” and severance expenses.

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