More than $100 billion in client assets are now on Merrill Lynch One, the firm's new wealth management platform, representing a major technology upgrade for its 13,000 plus advisors.
The milestone was reached on Tuesday, less than a year after its launch, according to a Merrill spokesman. The firm rolled out Merrill Lynch One in September with a small pilot group. Merrill has since made the platform available one market at a time, sending out training teams to assist advisors.
The efforts represented a radical upgrade for the firm, which used the new platform to replace five older ones dating as far back as 1989. Merrill spent over $100 million developing the technology over the past three years, and expects all of its advisors to use it by early next year.
"All five of those [older] platforms had their own fee schedule, their own signatures, their own websites, their own enrollments. It became an obstacle course for the advisors and their clients," says Lorna Sabbia, head of Managed Solutions for Merrill Lynch.
Sabbia, who oversees a staff of about 200 employees rolling out the new platform, says Merrill Lynch
One will make the process more client-friendly and help advisors become more efficient, because they'll spend less time on paperwork.
"It's one contract for all services, one fee schedule, and technically one signature to get on the platform," she says.
Sophie Schmitt, an analyst at Aite Group, says Merrill Lynch One's current success is due to the streamline process by which advisors were trained and transition of client assets.
"I think a lot of firms would like to do something like this, but it's hard for them to do something from scratch like this. It's hard to design a system from scratch, design something without going back to various legacy systems," says Schmitt.
In the past six months, Merrill advisors Chris Panos and his son Victor, based in Orlando, Fla., have transitioned over $100 million in assets to the new platform.
"The difference as far as the interface, it's like going from Windows 95 to an iPad. It's that transformative. It's simple, intuitive," says the younger Panos.
He adds, "Historically, what we offered was a strong product, but it was difficult to put a portfolio together. You couldn't easily put SMAs and ETFs and mutual funds in one account, in the way we would like to do it in a customized fashion. [Merrill Lynch One] let's us do it much more easily."
The firm will begin training advisors in two remaining markets -- the South Atlantic and Texas, completing what Merrill executives claim is a landmark upgrade for a brokerage firm.
"This is by far the biggest innovation. Whether size, scope, disruption. It's also the fastest introduction of an investment advisory platform in our history, and -- I would argue -- anywhere on the Street," says Sabbia.