New Merrill Culture Sparks Growth, Creates New Ways To Serve Families

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Andy Sieg has dramatically altered Merrill Lynch’s wealth management’s culture during the past five years, rejuvenating the firm’s organic growth.

When Sieg joined the firm as president in 2017, the company was losing marketshare to discount brokerage houses and competitors. Some Merrill advisors were comfortable and didn’t want to add new accounts. And Merrill was losing about as many households as it was adding each year.

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Between 2000 and 2016 Merrill’s share of the market dropped to 5% from 7%. The declines came during a period of rapid asset growth in the wealth management industry.

“It took a number of years for the trend to be really clear,” Sieg said, noting that Merrill had added assets and reported strong earnings during 2000-2016 despite the market share loss.

Most Merrill’s asset growth had resulted from advisors leaving competitors and bringing their customers to Merrill.

To be sure, the lack of organic growth was worrisome. Sieg turned to top Merrill advisors for advice.

The solution? Create an internal network. The network would be a venue where top advisors could share their best ideas.

“We decided we needed to focus on getting our organic growth engine turned back on,” Sieg said. “Winning new clients brings enormous new energy and opens new doors in the marketplace.”

Merrill’s Advisor Growth Network was born in 2017.

Each week, top advisors host a national conference call and offer advice about practice management, growth strategies and how to better serve multigenerational families. Attendance started out small with fewer than 100 advisors, but interest grew rapidly. Today, the calls are attended by an average of 1,000 advisors each week.

What started as a core of 28 top advisors who agreed to volunteer their time mentoring other Merrill advisors has expanded to more than 700 professionals.

The network is reshaping Merrill and how it does business. The move should reposition Merrill at a time when Baby Boomers, who hold half of US household wealth, are forecast to transfer an estimated $70 trillion to heirs.

The weekly conference calls expanded to include an internal electronic bulletin board called the Bull Horn. The Bull Horn hosts podcasts, videos, articles and tip sheets. Advisors can post questions and get answers from other advisors.

The financial results have been impressive, Sieg said.

“Gross household acquisition has gone from two new households per advisor to six per financial advisor,” Sieg said. “The [asset] flows driven by organic household acquisition are up 10-fold and average size of a new client’s account has gone from well under $1 million in 2016 to $1.7 million in the first quarter of this year.”

Merrill reported 23,300 net new households at year end 2021, up 6% from the prior year while year-over-year client balances jumped 14% to $3.2 trillion.

Adds Sieg: “Client satisfaction has increased dramatically the last few years.” Internal figures show 94% of clients expressing a high approval rating from Merrill, up from 86% in 2016.

Advisors are singing Sieg’s praises, too.

“I think what Andy has done is put together an incredible assembly of people who want to grow their practice,” said Raj Sharma, managing director of The Sharma Group in Boston. “Andy introduced this network into the culture of Merrill which had become too complacent.”

Aashish Matani, a Merrill advisor who runs a 10-person wealth management team in Norfolk, Va., said the network helped him decide how to reorganize his practice.

“I was able to brainstorm with another advisor about team coverage and how I could use it in my own model,” Matani said. “I learned that I was covering way too many clients [60-80], He was covering only 15-20 and was doing twice as much business as I was.”

Mary Mullin, managing director of the Mullin & Associates in Boston, said: “In the old Merrill if you were starting out as a young associate, you would be intimidated by top advisors.” But this is no longer the case, Mullin said. The AGN is changing the Merrill culture, encouraging advisors of all experience levels to share ideas.”

“We steal our best ideas from each other. And I say steal in the most positive sense of the word,” Mullen said. “I am going to take your ideas and personalize them to my own voice. The beauty of it is we are sharing all this material.”

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Credit: www.forbes.com /

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