A Merrill Lynch sign. Copyright Leon Neal, Getty Images

Merrill Lynch App Poses a Threat to Third-Party Financial Tools

The brokerage’s mobile app is looking more like a bank’s—and offering services customers have gone elsewhere for in the past.

Merrill Lynch, the brokerage firm owned by Bank of America, recently added several new features to its mobile app, meant to keep brokerage clients inside the firm’s mobile platform, without the need to switch to third-party applications for budgeting, planning or money transfers. That includes a view of clients’ banking and credit card accounts.

Kabir Sethi, the head of Digital Wealth Management at Merrill Lynch, said on Thursday that brokerage clients who are also customers of Bank of America will be able to access the new mobile app features, which includes a spending and budgeting tool, real-time money transfers via Zelle and the ability to track their FICO score. Clients will also be able to access banking statements and documents going back seven years, scan and send documents to their advisor straight from their mobile device.

In other words, the Merrill Lynch brokerage app is looking increasingly like the one offered to Bank of America clients, but Sethi said they made a strategic decision to enhance the existing app for its brokerage clients as opposed to folding both platforms into one. He said the firm’s research showed clients preferred separate apps.

The challenge, Sethi said, was to integrate the functions as much as possible without detracting from the user experience. Sethi said the firm will continue to add features and, in the future, will give Merrill Lynch clients similar aggregation tools even if they don’t bank with Bank of America.

Sethi said they found clients prefer to use budgeting, finance and aggregation tools when they were in a single app, as opposed to going to third-party providers. There is also the added benefit of alleviating security risk when keeping inside a single application.

Sethi praised PayPal’s money transfer service Venmo, but said that Zelle, a digital payments network owned by a consortium of banks including Bank of America and included in the new brokerage app, transfers funds more quickly.

The budgeting tool in the Merrill Lynch app categorizes transactions and helps users analyze their spending via 10 core categories and 62 subcategories based on data collected for Bank of America’s millions of customers.

Secured text messaging between clients and advisors, which Merrill Lynch rolled out earlier this year, plus document scanning and transfers also eliminate dependency on third-party messaging and email services when clients are working with their advisor.

Other consumer banks have taken similar steps to integrate services into one place for their customers. JP Morgan Chase recently began rolling out access to brokerage services through J.P. Morgan and offering customers access to their credit score in the Chase mobile app.

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