BofA Boosts B-D Unit

Terry Flanagan

The broker-dealer unit of the investment bank has made several hires to improve service to certain clients.

Bank of America’s Merrill Edge broker-dealer unit has hired about 40 new financial solutions advisors in an effort to boost the service provided to its preferred customer client base.

“The build-up of a dedicated team of preferred customer specialists is part of a strategy to offer a differentiated experience to our preferred and small business customers in the mid-Atlantic region,” said Tony Burns, Merrill Edge mid-Atlantic regional sales manager. “By adding FSA’s in the banking centers, we offer customers the benefit of in-person attention from a specialist who can help them meet their entire financial needs across banking and investing.”

Merrill Edge categorizes its preferred customers as those with investable assets between $50,000 and $250,000. It estimates that this client base is one of the fastest growing segments in the industry.

“There’s tremendous growth potential in this segment,” said Burns. “There’s eight million of these customers right now in the segment. We estimate that this eight million has $5 trillion in assets held away from the company.”

Bank of America is making these hires in a market that has been very tough for brokerages, with many of the big banks conducting layoffs in their broker-dealer units. “This is a strategic decision that’s been made,” said Burns. “It’s in the best interests of the firm to service this segment very thoroughly.”

The additional manpower will be assigned to the brokerage’s mid-Atlantic operations, spanning Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

“Traditionally this is an underserved client,” said Burns, adding that the bank will look to expand its financial solutions advisor base to about 1,000 by 2012, targeting the mid-Atlantic and other metropolitan areas.

In addition to the hires, BofA will also be opening new specialty stores in the mid-Atlantic region to provide in-person services and technology. It has already opened five new locations in the Washington, D.C. area.

Merrill Edge is a unit of Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, which is a registered broker-dealer and a subsidiary of Bank of America.

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