Overall, net income for the wealth unit grew by $20 million from last year to $881 million as revenue inched up 1% from a year ago to $5 billion.
Merrill advisors added 6,400 net new households in Q1, up 26% from Q4 and “that’s an average of over 500 net new households per week, up from 350 per week in the fourth quarter,” the executive said. That was “supported by powerful momentum on gross household acquisition and that’s approaching levels that are roughly similar to pre-pandemic pace.”
There were 675 net new households added in Q1 by the Private Bank business, the company said.
In Q1, the firm “undertook 183,000 [new] financial plans with our clients,” a 26% increase from Q4, the senior executive added.
Across BofA, its net income rose 101% year over year to $8.05 billion, and earnings per share jumped 115% to $0.86, topping estimates. Total revenue improved 13% from last year to about $22.8 billion.
Training, Technology Updates
Merrill has been restructuring its advisor training program. Those already in the program have been completing their training during the pandemic (as the firm disclosed in the fall), the executive told reporters. About 150 of them completed their CFP training earlier this year.
“In the couple of next weeks, we’re going to have a broader announcement in terms of how, overall, we will operate going forward,” he disclosed.
Merrill’s “long-term investments in digital capabilities have allowed us to thrive over the past year” and Cisco Webex has been a “key tool” for advisors, with usage increasing nearly six times over last year in Q1 alone, with 137,000 Webex meetings, the executive said.
There were, meanwhile, a record number of secure messages sent between advisors and clients in Q1 using Merrill’s mobile platforms, up more than 50% from last year, he noted. A record number of forms were signed electronically in Q1, representing more than 50% of all eligible forms, he said, and 80% of Merrill clients now engage with the firm digitally, up from 77% in 2020.
Merrill is also “continuing to build artificial intelligence capabilities and insights into our new advisor workstation” that are “being built on and leveraging the technology behind Erica,” he pointed out.
Erica is BofA’s virtual assistant, which is also being used in the new Digital Wealth Overview personalized interactive videos recently introduced to Merrill clients.
“Later this month, we’ll launch a new, fully digitized client onboarding experience” that is taking what has been a week-long process using paper and “transforming it into an online digital process that can be completed in one day,” saving time for advisors, the executive said.