Bank of America Merrill Lynch increases adviser headcount 3% in 2015

The wirehouse lost 30 brokers in fourth quarter, but had a net gain for the year

Jan 19, 2016 @ 2:26 pm

By Christine Idzelis

Bank of America Corp.'s global , which has nearly $2.5 trillion of assets, expanded its pool of advisers last year as fourth-quarter management fees stayed near record levels despite market volatility.

The number of advisers at its Merrill Lynch full-service brokerage and U.S. trust businesses rose 4.5% last year to a net 15,976, according to Matthew Card, a spokesman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based bank, which Tuesday reported fourth-quarter earnings.

“Across our industry, the adviser population is shrinking — except at Merrill Lynch, where we're growing our adviser numbers, both from recruiting and a record number of graduates from our training program,” the spokesman said. “Competitive attrition and overall attrition have continued to run at historic lows for the last two years.”

The brokerage industry has been bracing for a wave of departures as long-term retention deals, struck with advisers during the financial crisis, begin to expire. Bank of America bought Merrill Lynch in 2009 as Wall Street was reeling from the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.

While the number of Merrill advisers increased 3% in 2015, headcount in the fourth quarter dropped by 30 for a total of 14,533, due in large part to departures tied to its international private banking division, which focuses on ultra-high net worth clients with more than $10 million, according to the spokesman.

The Merrill Lynch wealth management unit, which provides services to individuals with at least $250,000 to invest as well as the ultra-high net worth in private banking, is the biggest piece of Bank of America's wealth management business, with almost $2 trillion of assets at the end of last year.

Revenue at the Merrill unit fell 0.8% to $3.7 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with a larger 3.5% drop to $4.4 billion at the bank's global wealth management business, according to the spokesman.

Bank of America's global wealth management unit collected $2.05 billion of asset management fees in the fourth quarter, down 1% from the same quarter a year ago due to “difficult markets,” but still near record levels, he said. The fees climbed 5% to $8.35 billion in all of 2015, compared with a 6.6% rise at the Merrill unit.

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