With most financial advisors at Merrill Lynch now working as a team, the wiring powerhouse plans to adopt a 100% team approach by the end of the decade without any mandate from head office.
The share of advisers on the firm’s teams has risen to around 80%, up from just 45% a decade earlier, said Andy Sieg, president of Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. noted in a speech last month. Wealth managers across the industry have embraced corporate teams and practices to varying degrees, from the most radical structure of fully shared services and compensation to a pair of counselors simply merging their practices or to a sole practitioner adding specialist staff. Merrill and other wirehouses with decrease in the number of advisers also face recruitment and retention challenges. Many of their top performing youth advisors are already part of the teams.
For the roughly 18,600 counselors of the so-called Thundering Herd to join the teams, the question for each of them is, “What is the vision for your own practice?” Kenneth Correa, National Business Development Manager for Merrill, said in an interview.
“It’s not a mandate of, ‘Hey, you need to have four advisers.’ It all depends on what you want to do as an advisor or a group of advisors, and what that market looks like,” Correa said. “You’re dealing with financial advisors who are entrepreneurs. and help them shape that, based on the vision they have, and help them complement it with professional coaching.
Other wealth managers use a team structure through their networks of advisors. At the offices of aggregator RIA Mariner Wealth Advisors, teams have a “fairly consistent” setup with a senior wealth advisor, another advisor and a client service associate, as well as tax, trust or other specialized professionals for clients using additional services, according to Tulsa, Oklahoma-based senior wealth advisor Natalie Haggard. In addition to creating an easier path to the profession for novice advisors without the pressure of building a business portfolio right away, clients “feel better knowing” more staff members in addition to the primary advisor, a she declared.
“We’ve heard so many times from prospects, ‘My adviser is gone, and I don’t know who it is now,'” Haggard said. “That doesn’t happen at Mariner because there are so many people available for this client that they’re used to seeing and hearing and (seeing) names on emails. If anything were to happen to their adviser, there would be people here that they already know who can easily pick up and carry on. So it’s good for the client not to have that in the worst case the downtime of losing someone, but in the best case to be able to act quickly and have access to a many different people.
Indeed, Merrill sees teams as important for forging “greater chemistry and better connections” with customers across generations and as America’s demographics continue to shift toward a future multi-ethnic customer base, Correa said. The firm provides access to practice management consultants as part of the Elite Growth Practice it was launched two years ago. Each team can define roles such as CEO, COO and business development manager as customers seek out more types of services for more hours throughout the day, he said.
“Teams should be the present, and teams will definitely be the future,” Correa said. “More and more people will be on teams, not because we mandate it. It is more and more because the market demands it.