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Merrill Lynch Headcount Flat, But Advisors Less Productive in Q3

Bank of America Merrill Lynch said the brokerage's advisor headcount was flat, while FA productivity declined during the third quarter.

Bank of America’s global wealth and investment management group, which includes Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust, said its advisor headcount was flat, while FA productivity declined during the third quarter.

Annualized revenues per advisor fell to $910,000 from $915,000 in the second quarter and $921,000 in the year-ago quarter. Meanwhile, Merrill’s thundering herd was virtually unchanged from the second quarter, at 17,533 FAs. That compares to 17,094 advisors a year ago.

“While our goal remains to size our advisor population to meet the market opportunity, our priority is to train and develop advisors who are focused on helping our clients achieve their desired life outcomes,” said Sue McCabe, a Bank of America spokeswoman.

The unit reported earnings of $542 million, up from $362 million a year ago, which the firm attributed to lower expenses and credit costs, and higher revenue. Revenue rose 1 percent to $4.3 billion, largely driven by higher net interest income, the company said.

That represents a 20 percent pre-tax margin, up from 14 percent in the year-ago quarter. On a conference call Wednesday morning, analysts questioned whether the wealth management business was under-contributing, given its low margin compared to the rest of BofA’s units.

“Investment management revenue for the Merrill Lynch side of the company is a lower-margin business,” said CEO Brian Moynihan. “I’d be careful about assuming how much improvement. Moving up 3, 4 percent might be doable, but I wouldn’t assume it would get back to a private banking-style margin.”

The firm’s also selling its international wealth management business, which should help margins improve going forward, Moynihan said.

Merrill Lynch assets under management rose to $707.7 million, up about 15 percent on the year. Net new assets under management totaled $3.8 billion for the quarter, versus $1.9 billion in the second quarter of last year. “Long-term” fee-based asset flows were $5.7 billion in the quarter, which helped offset seasonal declines, the firm said. Client balances for Merrill grew to nearly $1.9 trillion from $1.8 trillion in the previous quarter.

TAGS: Equities
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