09.22.2011
By Terry Flanagan

BofA Boosts Regional B-Ds

Two regional broker-dealer units of the investment bank have made several hires to improve service to certain clients.

Bank of America’s Merrill Edge broker-dealer units will look to hire more than 230 new financial solutions advisors in an effort to boost the service provided to its “preferred” customer client base.

The new hires will be made in BofA’s New Jersey and Central New England regional units. About 180 will be hired in New Jersey over the remainder of the year, with 155 financial solutions advisors being added to the Merrill Edge Advisory Center in Hopewell, and another 26 in banking centers throughout the northern and central regions of the state. An additional 50 FSAs will be added in the Boston and Hartford areas of Central New England.

“Our banking centers are a critical part of how Bank of America builds and deepens relationships, illustrated by the fact that they are where customers make two-thirds of their purchase decisions,” said Matt Gellene, a BofA east division executive.

The hires come about a month after BofA’s Merrill Edge broker-dealer unit hired about 40 new advisors in the mid-Atlantic region, to be assigned to the brokerage’s operations in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia areas.

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. The bank will look to expand its financial solutions advisor base to about 1,000 by the end of the year, targeting other metropolitan areas.

“There’s tremendous growth potential in this segment,” said Tony Burns, Merrill Edge mid-Atlantic regional sales manager. “There are 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. The move to focus on this particular customer segment comes in the wake of the bank’s announcement that it would lay off about 10 percent of its total workforce, or about 30,000 employees, over the next two years, as it looks to control costs.

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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