Bank of America officially announced Monday the launch of Merrill Edge, a platform geared to the mass affluent customer segment.
This represents the company’s latest effort to bring together the strengths of Bank of America and Merrill Lynch into one cohesive customer-service initiative.
Merrill Edge is designed to offer access to both banking and investing accounts through BofA’s ATMs and bank branches, as well as its online, mobile and texting applications. More specifically, it offers “end-to-end banking and investing,” or a view of all accounts and credit cards and the ability to move money between accounts; Merrill Lynch investment research; and a full range of financial services. Moreover, clients can access this via a self-directed model, or seek help from a broker.
"With the launch of Merrill Edge, we have the ability to offer financial advice and solutions to investors at all stages of their financial lives," said Sallie Krawcheck, president of Global Wealth and Investment Management at Bank of America, in a press release that accompanied a conference call. "Whether it's a first plan or a multi-generational trust, we have comprehensive research, solutions, and, most importantly, the people, across the Bank of America enterprise to help investors realize their goals."
The mass affluent is one of the fastest-growing segments of the market, according to Bank of America, which also announced a new study of the financial concerns of this group. It defines mass affluent as those clients with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets.
This effort is a major step down the cross-marketing path that the company has always touted as one of the major benefits of the Merrill acquisition. To be sure, there have been critics in the industry who say that cross marketing between a bank and a brokerage is nearly impossible. But Bank of America has steadfastly stuck to its guns in this respect. Krawcheck sent an email to On Wall Street for our November cover story, saying a major part of her job is helping to “bring out the great competitive advantages we have as part of Bank of America.”
In today's conference call, Krawcheck said Merrill Edge integrates the strengths of BofA and Merrill so well that she characterized it as a “joint venture between wealth management and consumer.”
Merrill Edge also will hopefully give BofA a leg up on reaching the next generation of clients, Krawcheck said on the call.
“There are huge chunks of opportunity within wealth management. One is retirement, and another is the inter-generational wealth transfer,” she said. Later, she said that $10.8 trillion would be transferred over the next decade. (For comparison, if that amount of money were channeled into on country’s GDP, it would constitute the second-biggest economy in the world, far outpacing China’s $5.6 trillion, but coming in below the U.S.’s $14 trillion).
Over time, the hope is that those next generation investors would seek out their own advisory relationships. But, Krawcheck said, they are far different from their parents. They are more conservative with investments; almost as conservative as the segment that is about to retire, she said.