Merrill Lynch Wealth Management is putting the spotlight on advisor training with the appointment of Racquel Oden as head of new advisor development.

Oden, currently a managing director with the firm, will oversee the practice management development program, Merrill’s training program for new advisors. The company says that there are currently about 3,000 advisors in the 43-month long program, which has existed since 1946.

Oden, who will serve as an “advisor to advisors,” has been in the financial services industry for 16 years, the last four of which have been at Merrill, where she has served as head of global product strategy and new business development for the firm’s global investment solutions group.

While Merrill has had a training program in place for decades, it is receiving more attention with the graying of the advisor workforce. The average advisor age was 51.5 in 2012, according to data from Cerulli Associates, and thousands of financial advisors are beginning to plan for their retirement.

“It’s important that as we are training and developing advisors and that we have a strong pipeline [of new recruits],” Oden says.

The firm currently draws its trainees from a variety of industries, where they have successful track records. “The idea here is that they are bringing seasoned experience,” says Oden.

Trainees spend their first three months obtaining the necessary licenses. They then focus on a core curriculum, learning about client service relationships and Merrill’s products and technology. They also work in a local branch with other advisors to acquire field experience.

Later in the program, and in keeping with Merrill’s emphasis on advisor teams, trainees work on specific skill-sets that will make them valuable team-members. For example, if a trainee will join a team that needs a dedicated financial planner, then the trainee will work towards getting a CFP designation. Oden notes that many studies show that clients prefer advisors to focus on goals, rather than products, and teams are better suited to help meet those goals.

“We’re asking our advisors to shift the conversation with clients to focus on outcomes and goals instead of markets and products,” Oden says.

A team approach also helps prepare for the looming retirement wave by having older advisors work closely with the trainees who will be their successors. 


Read more: Facing Retirement Wave, Firms Get Serious About Training New Advisors