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Merrill Lynch 2001 Complete Broker Comments1

A (Technology) “Lagging behind other firms on the street.” B (Hiring/recruiting) “We’re in a hiring freeze right now so nothing’s happening in that area.” (Account statements) “There’s so much information on those statements that someone who’s not a sophisticated investor can get lost trying to read it. The firm offers a total platform for both institutional and private client and we’re the only ones

(Technology) “Lagging behind other firms on the street.”

(Hiring/recruiting) “We’re in a hiring freeze right now so nothing’s happening in that area.” (Account statements) “There’s so much information on those statements that someone who’s not a sophisticated investor can get lost trying to read it. The firm offers a total platform for both institutional and private client and we’re the only ones that do that. That’s what we do best. However, from a marketing point of view, when it comes to having people understand what we do, or our branding, it’s poor.”

(Sales support): “We get all the help we need when we need from operations. Our overall focus and strategy is our strong point, as well as the freedom from any pressure whatsoever. We could use more sales assistants at the branch level and better technology.”

(Hiring/recruiting) “We’re in a hiring freeze right now, but even before that I don’t think they made a concentrated effort to go out and get highly qualified advisors.” (Training) “There’s a lot of training but most of it is redundant. I think we could step up some of our training efforts.” (Operations) “We’re so spread out we end up with operational issues every now and then that are difficult to get sorted out.” (Fixed income) “Depends on which day I’m asked.” (Overall) “The firm is great with high net worth wealth management and that’s a big plus, but with individuals who are not in that range, the firm doesn’t target them as much. All of our marketing has to be approved throughout the firm and we’re not supported financially if it’s within a lower range.”

“General ratings in the fives and up means it’s average. I don’t love ‘em, I don’t hate ‘em. Could be better, could be worse. Our strength is in our name recognition.”

(Freedom) “A year ago I would have said ‘1.’ There has been some pressure but it’s starting to lighten up.” (Hiring/recruiting) “There’s such a variance in quality.” (Training) “There’s some training but the quality of the training program is lacking. Even as a trainee, many years ago, I felt they could have been done a better job of making brokers more sophisticated and professional.” (Operations) “It’s a mixed bag because you also have to deal with compliance. Firm has gotten very compliance oriented, almost to a fault. It’s not very efficient, it bogs down the broker and slows down what we do.” (Account statements) “Have gotten feedback from clients who tell me there’s too much information cluttering the statements. It’s repetitive and confusing.” (Ethics) “Ethics? I question the ethics of Wall Street as a whole.” (Image) “This firm has always had a good reputation.” (Overall) “We have strong marketing and advertising, our technology has improved somewhat. On the down side I think we’re a little too regimented without enough flexibility.”

(Sales ideas) “They’re mediocre, I don’t use them at all.” (Overall) “Our firm’s integrity is excellent. We have high quality, wonderful people helping us and providing all the support we need. There is virtually no product push on us. If we’re weak in anything it’s technology. It needs a lot of work. They would do well to listen to the field people in terms of what’s happening. I guess it’s the nature of the beast after getting so big.”

(Hiring/recruiting) “It’s mediocre. We could do a better job in hiring. As a trainer, I’m sensitive to what I’m given to work with. (Focus) “I think they pretty much have that figured out. Their strategy is built on long-range planning, fee base business, annuitized type business. I really agree with that.” (Ethics) “Very ethical, almost to the excruciating stage. (Image) “We have a good brand, good identity in the marketplace, probably better than most. (Overall) “We genuinely have our client’s best interests at heart. The firm is extremely focused on what’s right for the clients. That’s good, but sometimes it can be so detailed, making sure every “i” is dotted not once, but 10 times, that it gets to be tedious. Our technology is our soft spot as well as the trend towards continuing education.”

(Hiring/recruiting) “I gave it a 7 if it wasn’t good quality I’d have given it a 3.” (Sales assistants) “We’re in a hiring freeze right now, in all departments.” (Overall) “We set the standards for the other firms. As we go, so goes the rest of the industry, so we have a jump on everyone else as far as the way this business is going. Merrill spends time and money on research and technology and is always ahead of the curve. The quality of our financial counselors is higher than the rest of the street. I suppose our sales support back office could be improved, such as in corporate stuff and the municipal desk. With so many cut backs it’s not even worth calling the back office because most of the time they don’t know anything.”

“Working here 30 years, I think we excel in most areas, our image, the availability of products, support, and quality of individuals working here.”

“I’ve been here 22 years. I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.”

“I think Merrill Lynch has a real good grasp of the wealth management business and a good strategic plan.”

“It’s hard working for a leader. You expect the bar to be higher at Merrill Lynch—what they expect of you. But that’s OK.”

“The quote and information system is poor in terms of its performance and in terms of how often it works. Even so, this is a great firm to work for; we're the best firm on the street.”

“With a large company like ours, [its] occasionally not as responsive as a small firm would be. But they have so much more to offer here a wealth of opportunities that allows me in the direction I want to go with my business. I think the direction the firm is going, with the change in management, is good. We're focusing on high net worth individuals. That's where it's at--managed money and private portfolios is the future of the business.”

“The firm made a mistake in not beating Schwab to the punch and buying out Northern Trust. They dropped the ball there. To buy Northern Trust out would have been great. Instead, we're trying to build our own trust company and it's taking too long.”

“Launny Steffens was the head of the private client group, and now he's being encouraged to leave. [Stanley] O'Neal will probably take over that spot. These people are from outside our industry. O'Neal was originally a controller with GM. He didn't start out as a broker, cold calling. So the people taking over leadership of the company have never been in the trenches, and I think that's a mistake. It's better to have someone running things who's been in the brokerage industry a long time.”

“Our primary platform is second to none. Our product offerings are great. But our research could be more timely.”

“It's a great firm to start working at from day one. They set high benchmarks for you. From a service standpoint, they have all the tools to service the high net-worth individual. The commissions and payouts are lower, but they've recently come out with a simpler payout schedule, easier to understand than the old.”

“Our relationships with corporate clients hinder our research objectivity. Our research department may know something is not right with a company and not tell us simply because there's some banking relationship that the firm has with the company. I wish they could change that and become more objective.”

“The benefits are good and they give you the flexibility to work your own hours. But the firm has a lower payout than other firms. We have exceptional sales assistants here. They're all registered, which is unheard of. And we feel we have the best account statements in the business.”

“There's been a lot of management changes lately. But the top leadership at the firm, their long-term vision of where the firm is going, is great. They see things before the rest of the industry sees it. For example, we were making cutbacks before other firms started doing that and watching our bottom line.”

“We're undergoing a lot of changes. We're evolving into financial planning as opposed to transactional and along with that there's market turmoil. Because of the changes, we need a different platform, no quotas, just evaluation by performance on assets and amount of fees generated.”

“The firm is moving us away from transactional into fee-based. It's difficult to do. There's pressure. If you've been in business for a while, you don't want to do it. Maybe they're right. I've been in the business 12-13 years. Some clients want to trade. The firm has no problem with you trading if it's in a fee based account. I don't think we'll discourage that business. The firm is pushing us away from smaller accounts. You tend to resist that, too. We don't get paid for accounts under $100,000. First it was $25,000 that didn't pay. I wouldn't be surprised if they take it to $250,000. We resist this-- first because it's not the way we were taught. We were taught to go for everybody, take anyone who comes in the door. It's very rough in this market. Now we have clients who had over $100,000 last year and their accounts are down. We'd like to help them but we don't get paid. This is roughest market since ‘72 or ‘73.”

(Image) “The firm is doing well to insure that we're happy and too appealing to the public. Overall they're trying to do a good job. (Sales Assistants) “I think we need some work as far as sales assistants are concerned. [Like what?] Better training. (Quotas) “Our quotas are a little high in comparisons to others. Expectations [of the firm] are a little high. That could be modified a little.”

“I think Merrill Lynch does a great job of training and takes the high road as far as ethics is concerned. Each of us runs his business as he sees fit.”

“There's not a lot of pressure to sell certain products, no pushing of Merrill Lynch funds. The pressure is to build an annuitized book. It's as though they'd said, ‘Here's your business – build it the way you want to.’ But sales quotas with the market the way it is very high; they increased the hurdles in a bear market!” (Sales assistants) “The sales assistants were overworked before. There's not enough of them because of cutbacks. I'm in a small market office, which is about to be closed because of cutbacks. There's a move afoot to consolidate into larger offices. My clients don't want to drive to the city. What I'll do is set up at the country club here and meet with clients.”

“Very happy here, love Merrill Lynch. It's a great firm.”

“I think Merrill Lynch is usually on the cutting edge, ahead of change, always anticipates which way things are going to go. It's proactive rather than reactive.”

“What’s good about working at ML? I particularly like the company’s focus of the high net worth. We’re moving more toward the Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs model. We haven’t reached those levels yet, but hopefully that’s what we’ll turn into.”

(Research) “Content is excellent but accessibility is bad. Too slow.” (Why firm is good to work for) “I have the support I need, the services and products I need. I get the direction I need. (What’s firm doing better than others?) I think our strategic initiatives, starting with planning and goal setting for client’s objectives is the right place to start. The focus is in the right place. Goal achievement as opposed to just selling stocks and bonds. We have the tools to do it with and the high net worth clients provide the best opportunity to do that with.”

“What can ML do better? Really nothing. This is a great place to work.”

“What’s good about working at ML? The caliber of the consultants and the perceived value added. You’re either real happy here or not at all. We have a tight, well-run ship. I feel very fortunate. They do anything to keep me happy because I’m about 80% annuitized. I’ve been doing managed asset consulting for over 13 years. I’m kind of a quasi-poster boy around here. They want everyone else to do what I’m doing. All the firms are turning toward that.”

“You get info about Merrill before we do, which I don’t mind. I’ll get it one way or another.”

“I really have nothing bad to say about this firm. I mean, there’s always people who complain, but I’m sure you get that at every firm.”

“Branch manager should be replaced; [BM] is non-supportive.”

“We’re steady, same as it’s been for 23 years. Not a lot of change.”

(Freedom from pressure): "Right in-between.” (Realistic sales quotes) "Not a ton, but some." (Payout) “[Payout on fee-based products is going] "to get better hopefully in the new year. (Benefits) "Excellent.” (Overall sales support) "Pretty good." (Strategic focus) "Middle of the road. I don't know, I'm not sure, if they're wrong or right. I think they're trying to do the right thing." (Image) "We’ve had a few clients mention [lawsuits over high tech analysts' recommendations] to me, but I think it will fade away."

(Sales ideas) "Get plenty of that." (Quote and information system) [Firm spent $1 billion on system platform and is] "too embarrassed to say the Web platform would work better. [Firm] is supposed to give the brokers the same Web platform, but "right now, it's a pain" [o work off the TGA platform]. "The TGA system has tinks in it.” (Account statements) "Could do some work on that.”

(Payout) "They cut us on smaller accounts and things.. I don't like that." (Quote and info system) “[TGA system is] "not working very well. It’s overloaded.”

"Don't have anything to add."

(Account statements) "Very satisfied." (Image) “I like the image, the bull, the whole positive aspect of being bullish on America. I think image means a lot.”

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