When Bank of America Merrill Lynch financial advisor Jay Fields had to do a couple of swaps on Monday morning from one security to another, he said the process was seamless thanks to a new portfolio management and trading platform.
“The whole process to me a couple of minutes from setting up the trade to getting them executed,” said Fields, who is based in Merrill Lynch’s Red Bank, N.J., office.
Fields has worked with Merrill Lynch’s new platform, starting from beta testing, in the 18 months he has been at the firm after previously serving at JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney. Today, the platform, named Portfolio+, has launched to more than 4,400 financial advisors in Merrill Lynch’s rep as portfolio manager program.
The development of the platform began when Merrill Lynch partnered with Charles River Development about four years ago before its acquisition by Bank of America.
Today, the platform aims to give the advisors institutional class investment tools, according to Charles River Development Global Managing Director Tom Driscoll. The platform comes as more large firms struggle to fully address the complexities of today’s marketplace, he said, as customers seeks to add more types of instruments to their portfolios such as ETFs and options.
The new platform has a user dashboard that can alert financial advisors to aspects of their client accounts that need attention. That could include compliance warnings of risks of breeches, alerts regarding accounts with contributions where the cash needs to be moved, or a portfolio drift where assets have moved from their asset allocation.
A financial advisor can then take that information and go right into a series of actions to correct the situation, Driscoll said, including making new investments and rebalancing.
“It’s the ability to do this for large numbers of accounts, potentially many relationships at once,” Driscoll said of the platform’s capabilities, “and then doing that in the context of very rigorous pre-trade compliance monitoring.”
The platform’s roll out was finalized this month following its introduction to advisors last December, said Lorna Sabbia, head of the managed solutions group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. More investment into the platform and improvements to its functionality are planned for 2012.
So far, the platform is exceeding expectations, Sabbia said, and is slated to handle more than 243,000 accounts and $94 billion in assets by the end of this year.
That comes as turbulence in the markets has tested the platform with volumes larger than what was originally anticipated when it was first built.
“I’m not sure any of us would ask for increased volatility, but it was a wonderful time to assess how did that platform hold up,” Sabbia said, “and it did an extraordinary job during those volatile days.”
So far, the feedback from financial advisors has also been positive. For financial advisor Fields, who said he has seen many trading platforms during his career, this one is proving to be the most robust, he said, as he works with $130 million in client assets under management.
A couple of weeks ago, Fields was able to buy hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bonds and then allocate them to client accounts within the platform. The process was much simpler than, while at a past employer, bond trading required calling a fixed income trading desk to allocate orders, he said.
“I really never needed to reach out to anybody on a desk to be able to help me get this done,” Fields said of his recent bond trades. “It makes my life much easier to go on and do everything else I need to do.”
Lorie Konish writes for On Wall Street.