Exciting changes are brewing at Merrill Wealth Management.
The movement is driven by two longtime Merrill insiders: Lindsay Hans and Eric Schimpf who want to rekindle growth and spur innovation.
The two executives were named to replace Merrill president Andy Sieg, who left Merrill for Citigroup
“We have tremendous opportunity to continue to grow right alongside our current clients and to continue to attract new clients,” said Schimpf, who previously served as a division executive and co-head of the enterprise advisor development program. “There’s work to be done on both fronts.”
Hans added: “We have all the pieces in place, we just need to do a better job of executing.”
The changes at Merrill come against a backdrop of an industry grappling with the increased demand for financial advice. These demands are expected to only intensify as the amount of wealth among high income U.S. households continues to increase. “The value of human advice is very important to our clients and the business has become more complex,” Hans said.
After spending the past 100 days meeting Merrill’s 25,000 employees, Schimpf and Hans said they plan to leverage the depth and scale of Merrill’s operations along with its extensive network of experienced wealth managers. The company can also build on Merrill’s long tradition of internal training and staff development to grow its network.
“Our core philosophy is that Merrill is the best place to be a client and we want to sustain that into the future,” said Hans, who previously oversaw Merrill’s international and institutional wealth management segments. “We have the most talented advisors and we have a full platform to serve clients across the full continuum.”
Hans said advisors told her that Merrill needs to “be nimbler, quicker, and just better at cutting through some of the stuff that makes it difficult” to do their job.
Added Schimpf: “I don’t think there is something here that is brand new. Lindsay and I have talked a lot about the role we play in the culture and the fact that everybody wants to get better. How can we help? By developing a strong culture of peer-to-peer learning.”
Training, development and establishment of stronger peer networks are key to innovation at Merrill and keep the company at the forefront of the wealth management industry, Schimpf and Hans said.
Merrill is well known for its innovations. For decades Merrill was a leader in wealth management, being the first company to introduce cash management accounts in the 1970s. But Merrill has struggled to regain its past glory amid the changing wealth management landscape and increased competition.
In 2008, Bank of America
Merrill arguably still has one of the best franchises in the wealth management industry, a franchise that is enhanced by its close relationship with Bank of America. BA encourages Merrill clients to aggregate their assets with BA by becoming banking customers. Merrill stands to benefit, too. BA spends $11 billion annually on technology with $3.5 billion of that figure earmarked for projects that lead to growth and innovation, including tools powered by artificial intelligence.
Hans said Merrill plans to focus on continuing to build its ranks of talented advisors — both at entry and senior levels. Experienced advisors will be given new technical tools and training. This effort will allow advisors to provide better service to clients.
Advisors told Hans and Schimpf that they need help managing teams and growing their business. Schimpf said teams have gotten larger and the demands associated with managing these teams continue to increase. In addition, customers are demanding additional services from financial advisors.
So far, advisors have greeted Hans and Schimpf’s appointment with enthusiasm. Top advisors interviewed by SHOOK Research say they are excited about the depth of the executives’ experience, transparency and stated commitment.
“The world has become so much more complex for advisors,” Hans said. “Most advisors did not get into this business to be CEOs. They got into it because they wanted to manage money, they wanted to attract new clients and because they wanted to invest and deliver financial planning.”
Yet, the reality is many advisors are now running complex businesses, Hans and Schimpf said. “What we are hearing is the advisors need capacity, they want more time to grow their business and deepen their relationships with clients,” said Schimpf, who began his career as a Merrill financial advisor in 1994.
Schimpf plans to work on development of a local leadership culture that will train and develop advisors, implement new technology and improve Merrill teams’ ability to manage growth and service clients.
“Everybody wants to get better. Lindsay and I will play a strong role in helping develop this culture,” Schimpf said. “We think people want to do all their business in one place – investments and banking — and we want to be that place.”