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After hiring spree, Merrill Lynch's adviser headcount jumps 254

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Merrill Lynch's thundering herd is growing again after the wirehouse went on a hiring spree ahead of an anticipated recruiting cutback.

The brokerage firm added 254 advisers during the second quarter, raising its headcount to 14,811. That figure was also up from 231 from the year-ago period.

The headcount growth came during a strong quarter for Merrill Lynch. Revenue increased 3.1% to $3.8 billion, according to the company which reported earnings on Tuesday morning. Client balances grew 8.5% to a record $2.2 trillion.

Merrill Lynch recruited a number of large teams in recent weeks, particularly from rival UBS. Just in the first week of June, Merrill said it poached two teams from the Swiss firm that managed $1 billion and $3.3 billion in client assets respectively.

The firm also benefited from low attrition levels and its training program for new advisers, the company said.

The results contrast with the two previous quarters, when headcount contracted by more than 100 advisers. Some departing brokers said they were switching firms due to Merrill's plan to restrict commission-based retirement accounts as part of its effort to comply with the fiduciary rule. The company has since relaxed those restrictions.

Merrill's headcount has also risen at the same time that Wells Fargo's has fallen, even as Merrill, Morgan Stanley and UBS have announced cutbacks to recruiting efforts.

Wells Fargo, which reported earnings on Monday, lost more than 500 brokers over the past three quarters since a fake account scandal rocked the bank. Morgan Stanley and UBS report earnings later this month.

Adviser productivity at Merrill Lynch was also up, rising to $1.04 million per FA from $993,000 for the prior quarter and $978,000 for the year-ago period, the bank said.

Bank of America's wealth management unit, which includes Merrill Lynch and U.S. Trust, reported net income of $804 million, up 14% from the year-ago period.

AUM flows, at $28 billion, were robust and continued a trend starting in the previous quarter. The company, which has reported $57 billion in AUM flows year-to-date, credits strong client activity and the shift from IRA brokerage accounts to managed relationships.

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